Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

butterflyFor 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 kid’s 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, 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 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.

Jane’s Journal…the closing chapter on a son’s addiction

Baby boy socksThis is the final entry of a series that started almost a year ago, when our 24-year-old son came home from his Hoboken, NJ apartment to tell us he was a heroin addict.  Our journey with him became this journal, where I have documented as honestly as possible the events and emotions we experienced.  Writing here helped me drain the wounds and reach out to others in pain, which became for me the essence of learning what I needed to know to move forward.  Thank you to Parent Pathway for that opportunity.

Here we are, less than a year later, with a story of hope and renewal. Today we are on another side– ever-grateful for, ever-aware of the miracles available in the recovery community, where those with the experience, expertise, heart and spirit of healing are waiting to assist.  We’ve met so many angels along the way, each appearing at the right time, in the right way, offering wisdom and one more opportunity.  We are at the beginning of a new life with our son, a Heroin Addict– who by his own admission will ALWAYS be in recovery. And finally we’re at a place where that’s fine with us.

September was the month our son returned from Florida, the graduate of a 6-month program in a regimented halfway house, where rules were the rule, a full-time job was expected, and residents were tested weekly for all substances. The smallest infraction– like improper disposal of a cigarette butt– meant immediate loss of residency and any monies paid.  The owner of the house was a no-nonsense recovering alcoholic with a huge heart but no patience for excuses and manipulation. To him, recovery is a vocation, not a vacation; and if a resident isn’t sufficiently committed to recovery, there’s always another who’s perhaps more serious.  Under his roof our son relearned the simplest life patterns: how to find and work a basic job, how to get up early, keep his room clean, respect himself and others. 

Our son was not the only one who benefitted from this arrangement.  In so many ways this stage was crucial to OUR healing as well.  It gave us distance from the daily worry, the inspection of his person, the suspicion of his whereabouts. It gave us badly needed respite from the intensity of his physical presence in our home.  With two other children and a large extended family to think about, the hard reality was that he may not be successful, that he may take us all down the rabbit hole of addiction with him.  Seeing my husband, already stressed to the breaking point from his job, unable to sleep and barely function, I knew I may have to make a very difficult choice.  But to me the whole has always been more important than the piece.  Loving one’s child does not mean giving them all unconditionally, and I was not willing to sacrifice the entire family for our son’s addiction.  Imagining the worst-case scenario, I said to our son that should he not succeed at staying clean, in Florida he would at least have warmth on the streets.  And God knows I meant it.  At least I thought I did.  Thankfully, this threat was never tested.

As his stay in Florida came to an end, my husband and I were both thrilled and excruciatingly anxious. We’d just begun to live our own lives again, sleep again, feel somewhat normal again, but now what?   Our son had done well in Florida, but would he continue?  What would he do next?  What job would he find? Who would hire him?  Would something at home trigger a relapse?  Could we survive it? There was nothing to do but employ the “One Day at a Time” strategy and shut out the rest.  We had no choice but to trust once again– in him, in ourselves, in the healing force that had already brought him and us so far.

It’s hard to describe the love and joy, the hope and tension of having our son back home.  We weren’t sure where the journey would take us all next, but we all knew what had worked thus far.  We discussed house rules and expectations. We enjoyed meals together and simple conversation. We occasionally delved into the pain of the past, and the possible reasons for it, but only in the continuing effort to heal as a family, not to rehash the events or dig too deep.  Our son made NA meetings his first priority, going to sometimes two in a day and also volunteering for institutional service at hospitals and rehab centers to talk about his experiences. His belief in the NA program was total.

After a few weeks of mainly meetings, we began to worry about his recovery because we knew his self-worth was linked to work.  But once again, through NA he met those who would vouch for his commitment to recovery and ultimately help him find that work.  He eventually explained to us that he hoped to get a job at the same facility where he’d done his detox and rehab; that this was a career he could imagine himself in, where his recovery was not exactly part of the job but absolutely enhanced by it.  Helping others was his new goal and part of his recovery equation.  We talked about the emotions and stress of such a job, but he made a clear distinction between his own recovery and the recoveries of others:  His recovery was achieved though working the steps of NA; theirs was up to them.

In October our son officially became the first former patient to be hired by the facility where he was once treated.  He gladly accepted the overnight hours that were available and ironically became a vampire again, rising at dinnertime, going to a meeting at 7:30 and work at 11 pm.  Now, while his father and I are on our first cup of coffee, he comes in the door at 7:30 am, exhausted but completely at peace.  His life makes sense, and so does ours, because everything supports his recovery, his growth, and ours.  We listen to a few stories from his night and then he’s off to bed.

While our journey is not one I would recommend or minimize, it is with relief and tremendous gratefulness that I share what has become a “happy ending.” Every day we see that he is healing and growing, and so are we.  He has found his purpose and place, where for now he is healthy and safe, productive and part of something greater than himself.  Apparently this is where he was meant to be.

What our son credits most for his recovery is NA. The members he met in the group near our home–the ones he first met and bonded with–were those he entrusted to guide him first to detox and then through rehab. In Florida, NA meetings were a requirement–one he was actually happy to honor, knowing the honesty and real-life experience available there were what he needed most.  With NA to guide him, he gained strength and power over his addiction with every day, every meeting. He found his spirit there, let his ego go, relied on others and the healing force within him to help make each day a positive choice and opportunity.  “Just for today” is the mantra he lives by.

While there really is no such thing in addiction as the “happy ending,” here’s what I definitely know:   We are extremely lucky. Our son’s experience is not the norm, but it reveals some things about addiction that are true for all.  These are the things that I would classify as such.

1)      The addict must know the problem is real and must want it to end, must want and accept the wisdom of those who have gone before and trust in their direction. Those people should be part of a 12-step program, and NA is the best of those.

2)      The addict must detox before his brain can begin to heal and detangle. Talking sense to an active addict is impossible.

3)      Detox followed by intensive rehab that includes psychological and behavioral therapy is very important.  There must be no drug substitute for the opiate, because another addiction will be the result.  There is absolutely no substitute for being clean. Any mind-altering substance is a threat to sobriety.

4)      The addict must find their spiritual self and learn to have a dialogue with and trust in that self.

5)      The addict needs structure, support, discipline and honesty to rebuild his life, with an emphasis on moving forward incrementally, within reason.  Understanding, healthy expectation, love and patience are all necessary, but also the occasional stern reminder that respectful cohabitation is all about exchange.

 End notes on the our experience:

  • Our son became an addict as an adult, and I’ve come to realize this was a huge advantage to his clearing hurdles in recovery.  Listening to parents in NarAnon meetings, it became clear that age is a monumental factor.  Explaining future life to a clean teenager is a challenge; expecting an addicted teen to comprehend the future or understand the reasons to get and stay clean is not just hampered by immaturity and hormones, it is absolutely obscured by the addiction itself.  There is no reference point. Recovery for a teen presents many more problems than what we encountered, and their parents are at least twice as challenged.
  • The particular practices of the addict are also a factor. Length of addiction and method of addiction are all part of the problem.  As our son has pointed out, use of a needle takes addiction to another level, so we were beyond lucky that he chose his nose and not his vein.

My prayer as I close Jane’s Journal and we embark on the year 2017 is that all of you reading this will find your own version of closure and some semblance of serenity.  I also pray this is the year scientists discover a drug-free way to cure addictions of all kinds, once and for all, investigating the addiction where it begins, in the brain.  Until then I am part of this group always, wishing the same wishes and praying the same prayers.

Thank you,


Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Can you forgive to find peace?

Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.   – Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Teen Addiction is a Risky Business


Perceptions are not realityHalloween is coming, so it’s  a good time to revisit some of the demons of addiction and possibly vanquish them from my life.  Guilt is one of the tenacious remnants of my son’s addiction. I know, I know:  I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it, I can’t control it. I understand that intellectually, but still….couldn’t I have done something different along the way to derail it?

Possibly not, according to a Time article that focuses on the teen brain and its quest for risk.

In the article, Valerie Reyna, professor of human development and psychology at Cornell University notes that “Because teens have a different style of information processing…they may get lost in the details about specific risks and overly focused on possible rewards, while ignoring the overall ‘gist’ of the problem — i.e., the ultimate consequences.”  Their greater tolerance for uncertainty and the unknown may help them step out into the world, a key task developmentally.  That tolerance for the unknown, coupled with their sense of invincibility, also underpins their willingness to try drugs or alcohol.

It’s actually freeing to understand the powerful biology that drove my son’s initial trysts with drugs and alcohol.  Being a more demanding/friendlier/better/worse/more disciplined/less controlling mom probably wouldn’t have curtailed his initial experimentation.  It all comes down to the decisions he made under the influence of his risk-seeking or risk-adverse brain.  I was powerless over his adolescent risk-taking, just as I am powerless over the alcohol that made his and my life unmanageable.  Note to self:  see Step One and stop being so hard on myself.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Can you set yourself free with forgiveness?

The missing chapter in the parenting book

Have you heard about the book called “Dear Me, a Letter to my 16-Year Old Self.”  Amazon describes the book like this:  “In Dear Me, 75 celebrities, writers, musicians, athletes, and actors have written letters to their younger selves that give words of comfort, warning, humor, and advice. These letters present intimate, moving, and witty insights into some of the world’s most intriguing and admired individuals. By turns funny, surprising, raw, and uplifting, this singular collection captures the universal conditions that are youth, life, and growing up.

It got me thinking—what would I say to my thirty-year-old self as I launched my ship into the seas of parenthood?  Maybe something like this…. “Dear Me: As you welcome your first child into the world, the good news is that you are embarking on a wonderful journey of discovery. The bad news is that you don’t get a map of any sort, beyond the wisdom offered by Dr. Spock.  And he doesn’t cover teen substance abuse.  So here is a list of tips to make the sailing smoother:

·         Be clear on your expectations and stick with consequences.

·         No matter what your kids do or don’t do, treat them with love and respect.

·         No matter what you do or don’t do, treat yourself with love and respect.

·         Holding on to past hurts only prolongs the suffering

·         Forgive yourself and others.

·         Know that you did the best job you could do at the time.

Well, that’s a start.  Looking back, what pearls of wisdom would you offer yourself (and others) who have journeyed through the Land of Addiction?

Moving Forward – Bouncing back to better times

I can really relate to this quote:

It does not matter how deep you fall, what matters is how high you bounce back. –Anonymous

I’m sure that everyone at some point in their life looks back and would have done some things differently. And for some who struggle with addiction, the depth of the actions they may have taken during the dark days can be quite overwhelming. Yet I do believe  that it is  important not to dwell on your past. It is important to see forgiveness and make amends to those that have been harmed in some way. Not only will it repair the relationships, but it will help you to find peace.

It is also important to ‘bounce back,’ as the quote says. Focusing on the future and moving towards healthy behaviors and relationships has so many rewards. When you are productive and making strides in your life it is so invigorating. As the positive days begin to add up together, the darker times begin to fade. I believe this happens to both those who are in recovery from addiction as well as those of us in recovery for co-dependency. In my journey to ‘bounce back,’ it is much more fun to fly up to the future then drop down to the past!

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Forgiveness“I am willing to be willing to forgive those who have hurt me.

I am willing to be able to forgive those who have hurt me.

I forgive those who have hurt me.

I see the hurt I have suffered as an opportunity to learn compassion.

I thank life for giving me a spirit that is forgiving and compassionate.”


-Author Unknown

Forgiveness is Freedom – Start by forgiving yourself along with your addicted loved ones

During the turmoil of living with a loved one struggling with addiction a lot of hurtful things are done and said. This is not only true of the addict and their behaviors, but also for those of us in the relationships and families surrounding the addict. We often put our focus on the addict and how we need to come to terms with forgiving him or her. It is very healthy for everyone when we can forgive. I believe we all know that forgiveness lends itself to a sense of freedom from a heavy burden. When we forgive it is like a large, collective sigh, a chance to breathe deep and know you have opened your heart.

We often forget that we also need to forgive ourselves. I know that I have a lot of guilt and regret from so many aspects related to my daughters’ addiction. I can easily list a number of things that I would do different now that I know what I know. I can also reflect on how I’ve handled various situations and how it would nice to have a chance to do it different. Yet, we cannot go back, we can only go forward. Part of going forward for me was to forgive myself and to know that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I can also know that I will do whatever I can to help others in the hope that in some small way, I can make a difference. And I can start by forgiving myself.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

parallel path of recovery from addiction and co-dependency“It is important that we forgive ourselves for making mistakes. We need to learn from our errors and move on.”
- Steve Maraboli