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.
It’s the holiday season, so give yourself the gift of serenity and understanding about your child’s chemical dependency.
When I was wrapped around the axel of my son’s addiction, I needed help, which I found in the form of books about addiction, written by addicts or by their parents, as well as books about the promise of recovery. Those books gave me a strong foundation for understanding the disease of addiction that has helped me manage my addiction to my son’s addiction. Here are some that I found incredibly powerful and healing:
The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. The book explains what is going on in our brains when we have chemical dependency or chemical imbalance. It helped me understand the toll that stress was taking on my body and how to remedy it nutritionally. It also helped me understand addiction as a neurological disease and paved a road to nutritional recovery for my son. Hello, nutrition; bye-bye, judgment.
Co-Dependent No More. The bible of co-dependency, this book helped me understand the dysfunction of my relationship with my son and how my efforts to keep him safe really crippled him and contributed to his addiction.
The Lost Years: Surviving a Mother and Daughter’s Worst Nightmare. You may recognize author Christina Wandizlak as the interventionist on the TV series “Addicted.” The author’s mother was a great role model for me when she set boundaries and detached with love. “I’ve changed. Come back home when you are ready for recovery” became my rallying cry after reading this book.
Check out these gems and the other mother-recommended reading in our Parent Pathway Amazon bookstore. Knowledge is power…claim yours.
For many of us, co-dependency developed quite naturally and innocently. We were the moms who took care of others when they couldn’t care for themselves. We unselfishly did the work that others didn’t want do, picked up the pieces that others dropped. We are the fixers, the rocks, and when we are sometimes blamed for having generous souls–as if that caused our kids’ addiction– it really hurts. It makes me feel extremely misunderstood. Since when is it a liability to be helpful and supportive?
But I know now about that fine line between support and unhealthy enabling. As I’ve learned, the assistance that I freely heaped upon my son, often unbidden, I might add, started to cripple him. I crossed that fine line when I started to do for him the things he could do for himself. Or maybe he couldn’t do them, or couldn’t do them well enough but I got in the way and pre-empted his growth.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we moms of kids who struggle with drugs often faced other issues that we tried to smooth over for them. Our kids had learning disabilities and floundered in the classroom, and we were their advocates. They had serious medical vulnerabilities, and we ran interference to make sure they were safe and had the medical accommodations they needed. Often, they suffered from depression, and we were there to blunt some of the blows that could pull them further down. These acts of kindness can often spiral into an unhealthy co-dependence, and that’s where healthy support turns into unhealthy enabling. Like the proverbial caterpillar that needs to wrestle its way out of the cocoon in order to survive, our kids need to develop their own muscles if they are to thrive. We can’t build those muscles for them.
I resurrected and re-posted this blog because I needed this reminder today. If you want to stop enabling, please think about using the “Boundaries” or “Letting Go” Meetings in a Box to help you detach with love.
When I follow the years of progression of the disease of addiction with my son, I sometimes see 10+ years having gone down the drain. Now, for a 50 odd year old, one year flies by at the speed of light and a whole lot can be accomplished! For a 20 year old, 10 years seems a lifetime. It’s a matter of perspective. However it feels, it’s still 10 years and sometimes I’m overtaken with despair.
I now realize that the 10+ years past is what it’s supposed to be; I don’t have any right to judge the usefulness of it. I sometimes question, when will he choose recovery? Will he ever? How can there be hope when over and over the same thing happens and it’s never good. This is the time I find myself going to a 12-Step Recovery Program, open to the public: AA or NA , where I can listen to others in recovery. It’s a good way to get re-energized. I’ve even found recordings on the internet to download of recovered persons who share their story. There is so much hope in their stories. By listening to them, I learn about the disease and it gives me another perspective to understand that recovery happens for each person differently, and on different time lines. Rarely do I hear someone speak on the help they got from their mom or dad. Sometimes there is an honorable mention to Al-Anon, where friends and family learned to stop enabling. The true source of help is inevitably something bigger than me or someone else – the unknown source, a Power, Greater than I – something I’ve come to welcome. I observe that some find recovery early, some get it years and years later. Sadly, some never get it. For the latter possibility, I’m reminded to be thankful each moment that I’m afforded an opportunity to see, hear or be in some sort of communication with my adult children. Years can fly by or the opposite. Sometimes days, and even hours can drag out for an eternity. Either way, if I stay in the presence of a Power, greater than myself, I can find serenity in the knowledge that when and if they ever decide, someone will be there to offer a new way to do life, with their own hope for the future. I can let go of my need to be overly involved and learn how to be a loving parent, unconditionally, when opportunities present themselves.
Often we are faced with decisions that we need to make on whether we will help our loved one in addiction. When we first start dealing with the wreckage of a loved one’s addiction we are often uninformed and ill equipped about what to do, I know I was. It seemed whatever I did just made things worse and I became more resentful. For example many addicts go from rehab to a sober living house. Although many times there is an agreement that if they relapse they need to figure out where they will go and not give them an option to come home. Yet when the dreaded relapse occurs, we are faced with this heart wrenching decision – so we leave them out in the cold or take them in?
I’m not for one decision or the other – both have consequences that can be very unpleasant and they both can have a good ending. In many cases from my experiences we did what we felt in our heart. And sometimes the outcome was not good for my daughter and actually enabled her to keep going down a dark road. The bottom line is there is no ‘right’ answer. Many people will have opinions on what to do – very strong opinions. But in the end it’s your child and you have to make the decision that is best for you. We need to look at each decision with the thought of whether it will help with the goal of becoming responsible or whether it will hinder the health and well-being. With each decision and outcome we learn and can adjust, and keep moving forward. Each family has to work together and make the next ‘right’ decision for their circumstance.
Journaling is a great way to remind me how far I’ve grown. From the grief stricken years of failure attempting to force my children to change their alcohol and drug abuse to today. In the course of time, the gradual, escalation of problems was not easy to see while in the midst of the drama and sometimes the same holds true for my recovery – I don’t see the progress. But reviewing old journals helps me remember how hard it was to accept that all my actions and heartfelt attempts to parent them “out of trouble” was further encouragement for them to continue. A new term, co-dependency was on my radar and it was not a label I was proud of.
It’s hard to grasp there is NO magic wand to fix the problem, but I have to remember the problem evolved slowly, over many years and there was no magic wand that created it. And to accept the solution lies not in a quick fix, but in a gradual series of changed behavior on my part seemed insurmountable. I just didn’t get it. But I was willing to try anything, desperate and frightened of the consequences of continued substance abuse.
There was an unsettling time of uncertainty when awareness of the truth became clear, but I was caught in a paralysis of inaction:
- I understood my usual tactics were no longer useful,
- My new awareness of co-dependency reinforced this understanding, and
- The unknown of how to move forward correctly.
This was a necessary affect in order for me to take action and it involved a willingness to have a leap of faith. I did not and could not have done this alone, I sought help.
I believe in my heart the same process of change applies to my loved ones. They must come to a place of intolerance for the situation, desperate for change and willingness to try another way. I no longer imagine what that will look like, or what program of recovery will work for them. I admit there was a phase of time I thought I knew what they needed in that department too. It’s no longer my business to determine this and if I try, I’m back to being the nagging co-dependent – I choose not.
Many times it seems that I look at the situation at hand and want more progress or have high expectations. Today I was discussing this journey that I have been on with some friends. I was relaying the trials and tribulations that occurred over the past 4 years. Later I began to think about how bad it had become when my daughter was in the depths of her addiction. I thought about how many times I almost lost her from various harmful situations she had been in. I thought about how she became someone I didn’t recognize and I was so desperate to have my daughter back. It made me realize that even though there is still growth and responsibilities to take on, so much progress has taken place. I had to pause and take stock of all the blessings that have occurred through this journey.
There are many blessings but the one that is the most prevalent for me is the fact that traveling this journey with my daughter has led me to experience tremendous growth myself. When I was desperate to help my daughter I was led to discover that the best thing I could personally do for her was to get help myself. I realized that the most loving thing I could do was to become knowledgeable about addiction and what I could do to stop enabling her. Learning that I did not and could not control everything taught me how to let go and be free of the stress that consumed me. This has been one of the blessings and today I took the time to reflect on this and be grateful for these discoveries.
Sometimes I wonder if setbacks in our lives are there to test the resolve of all of those involved. When our loved ones relapse into their addiction, it is an opportunity for us to go through our part in all of this. Overtime I have grown and changed that it is different now. After you go through multiple relapses with your loved one you sometimes start to feel just a little less devastated like you might in the beginning of the journey. I believe part of this is sheer exhaustion from the situation, but another part is the personal growth that comes to us as we travel alongside our loved ones on this journey.
Many people think that it’s all about the person with the addiction. And many times entire families become obsessed and focused on the one struggling with the addiction. But there is so much more to look at when you go through a time like this. I had to consider my progress…was I still enabling? Was I letting go of trying to control my daughter and let her live her life on her terms? Was I living my life and moving forward or was I stuck? Was I paying attention to the other important people in my life…my son, my husband? How was I coping and taking care of myself so that I could take care of my family? These are the questions that I needed to ask myself and be critical with my answers. I’ve found that it isn’t all about the loved one with addiction – it’s about the whole family and I need to take stock of how we were all doing and how I could best support everyone in our collective journey.
Researching or reading articles of research on addiction educates me more about why our loved ones continue to do what appears to us as 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 last year, 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.