When will the misery end? Stages of Grieving: parenting addicted children

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.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

How high can you jump for joy?

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

“Grief can destroy you –or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it.

But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see that it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”

Dean Koontz, Odd Hours

Transforming Loss as the Parent of an Addict

A child’s chemical dependency can give birth to tremendous disappointment.  We yearn for the son or daughter who didn’t grow up the way we expected.  We were hoping for college, but we got jail; we were anticipating joyful holiday celebrations, but instead we served up bitterness and swallowed our pride at the Thanksgiving table. Sometimes, horrifically, we don’t just lose our dreams for our children; we lose a child altogether.

What does a parent do with overwhelming grief when a child dies?  When I heard Diedrea Welch’s story on the radio (scroll down to the Healing Arts story), I was transfixed by the way she dealt with the loss of her young son to a drunk driver.  He was just eight years old.

Diedrea’s wisdom can make us all stronger, no matter what our challenges.  She found that, after a period of immense grieving, her son’s death ultimately “led her to her own truth:  it woke me up to the reality of who I am as a human being.”  To paraphrase her experience, after being immobilized by his loss, she began to  figure out what was really important in her life and about her life.  And she began to examine what attitudes were serving her, and which attitudes weren’t. She began to spend her time and her life on the truly important things.

Diedrea transformed her loss in a truly transcendent way, and  I owe it to myself to try to learn from her.  So I ask– Which of my attitudes are serving me, and which are doing me (and others) harm?  What is really important about my life? Where should I devote my energy—in light of, or in spite of—the fears and losses I’ve known? If I can answer these questions, then I have learned well from my child’s chemically dependency, however heart-wrenching that has been.

Healing comes in many forms, even via radio waves….

When Grief Gets in the Way for Parents of Addicts or Alcoholics

Photo of Ricki TownsendRecent tragedies in our nation are stark reminders that life is precious and fleeting. At the same time, it is important to seize life’s joys in spite of the worry and sorry that lies can lie so close to the surface when our children’s health is at stake. But what happens if we find ourselves clenching grief or loss—or the fear of loss–so tightly that we cannot embrace happiness or joy?

Ricki Townsend, family counselor, grief counselor and interventionist, shares some ideas about letting go of grief. “We have dreams and hopes for our children as they grow and discover life. Then one day we wake up to find they have become involved in the battle of addiction. And so our life as we hoped it would be has changed. As parents, we may find we have trouble sleeping, we may start to have health issues, we may find ourselves crying or even angry over the simplest of things. Please look at the possibility that you are grieving the loss of your child as you knew him or her. Grief and loss are naturally interwoven into addiction. Grief is different for each one of us, but please don’t discount it. We put so much energy into getting back our child that we often forget about ourselves.

Here are some ways to deal with your grief: If you acknowledge that you are grieving, I invite you to work through the grieving process with a counselor who will help you understand your losses and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.

  • Grief can feel suffocating.  A good exercise to release grief is to take a very deep breath hold it tightly and then release it slowly. You will feel your body calm down. It is also therapeutic to cry in the shower or yell in the car or smash pillows with a tennis racquet—anything physical to vent your sorrow, your anger, your disappointment.
  •  You might also want to write a letter to whatever is running your life—addiction  fear, remorse—and tell it that you are taking back your life.  You can also write down your sorrows and regrets and burn them in a fireplace or “burning bowl.”  The important thing is to symbolically purge your “if only’s” so that you can free yourself to live more in the moment.
  • There are also some great books that will help support our recovery. Check out the Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman or The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson.

It is up to each of us to ‘push the clouds away’ in order to be happy. Don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t become a victim—you have the power to reclaim your serenity.  If you have other questions about grieving, please feel free to contact me.”

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

 

“Sorrow comes in great waves…but rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us, it leaves us. And we know that if it is strong, we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain.”

 

Henry James

Letting go of grief over your child’s substance abuse

Photo of Ricki TownsendFor parents whose children struggle with substance abuse, the New Year gives us an opportunity to start fresh and welcome new, healthier attitudes or behaviors. But what happens if we find ourselves clenching grief or loss so tightly that we cannot embrace happiness or joy? Ricki Townsend, a family counselor and interventionist who helps families work thought grief, shares some ideas about letting go.

“We have dreams and hopes for our children as they grow and discover life. Then one day we wake up to find they have become involved in the battle of addiction. And so our life as we hoped it would be has changed. As parents, we may find we have trouble sleeping, we may start to have health issues, we may find ourselves crying or even angry over the simplest of things. Please look at the possibility that you are grieving the loss of your child as you knew him or her.

Grief and loss are naturally interwoven into addiction. Grief is different for each one of us, but please don’t discount it. We put so much energy into getting back our child that we often forget about ourselves. Here are some ways to deal with your grief:

  • If you acknowledge that you are grieving, I invite you to work through the grieving process with a counselor who will help you understand your losses and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.
  • Grief can feel suffocating.  A good exercise to release grief is to take a very deep breath, hold it tightly and then release it slowly. You will feel your body calm down. It is also therapeutic to cry in the shower or yell in the car or smash pillows with a tennis racquet—anything physical to vent your sorrow, your anger, your disappointment.
  • You might also want to write a letter to whatever is running your life—addiction, fear, remorse—and tell it that you are taking back your life.  You can also write down your sorrows and regrets and burn them in a fireplace or “burning bowl.”  The important thing is to symbolically purge your “if only’s” so that you can free yourself to live more in the moment.
  • There are also some great books that will help support our recovery. Check out The
    Grief Recovery Handbook
    by John W. James and Russell Friedman or The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson.

It is up to each of us to ‘push the clouds away’ in order to be happy. Don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t become a victim—you have the power to reclaim your serenity.  Best wishes for a healthy New Year.”   

Ricki Townsend

 

 

Ask the Expert: How can I survive the sorrow of being cut out of my daughter’s life?

a mother's broken heartYOUR QUESTION: My daughter is an addict. She is 25 years old. She has been in detoxes twice for heroin addiction. The last one was 3 years ago. She was clean and sober for 9 months and doing very well living in a half way house for women, attending meetings and seeing her professional.

While in rehab she met a man 11 years her senior. She announced to me that after knowing him for 6 weeks that they were going to move in together. I did not agree with this for obvious reasons but there was no big argument….She totally cut me out of her life which is totally uncharacteristic for her.

Around two years ago, she slowly started to reconnect with me and told me that she started to drink again. I was not allowed in her apartment, and her boyfriend did not want to see me or speak to me. She became pregnant with the same man she met in rehab. She visited me on my birthday this August. We had a nice visit until her boyfriend demanded she come home immediately, and she fell to pieces. They fought on the phone… she left the next morning and I never saw or heard from her again. She has cut all of her family and friends out of her life. I am not sure if this is her doing because of her addiction and mental illness or if this is his taking control of her.

I have tried everything in my power to connect to her and she refuses. Out of desperation I have called the police the house they live in looks very unkempt on the outside and has all the shades drawn …with no baby furniture or sign of a baby.. (I have been by 3 times in a year; she lives 30 minutes from me) so this freaked me out. The police did a wellness check and all seemed to be fine. I called child protective services because I am worried that they may be doing drugs and that the baby maybe neglected….. There is not much they can do without evidence. I have no facts… I have no evidence…. and this is killing me… to the point of a nervous breakdown a few months ago….

I have a daughter and a granddaughter (whom I have never seen) and they are out there out there. I have never been an abusive parent and am not an addict myself. I just do not know what to do anymore…. the anxiety is terrible…. I do say the serenity prayer and have excellent professional help…. I used to go to Al-Anon but I found that it made me more depressed and that I cried even more….

I just feel so stuck in this horrible place…… I just want to reach out and grab the two of them but I can not… I feel just terrible…. the anxiety and the sadness is always there although I do have really good friends and am a lover of life…. a teacher, a student and a musician…. but some days I cannot love life cause what I love the most is cut off… out there somewhere…

How can I weather this? Some days I just cry……and miss her sooo much.

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: What I saw in your email was largely a mom who is driven by grief. When we live with loved ones in addiction, it is so important for us to feel grief in a healthy way. I suggest you think about doing some work around your sorrow and the loss of dreams that you had for your daughter. The weddings, the grandchildren…whoever prepared us for this? Each day it seems as though our hearts are being rubbed with sandpaper. A grief counselor can help you deal with your deep pain.

You mentioned Al-Anon made you cry even more; possibly again this is a sign of deep grief. Did you have a sponsor? I hope you will try this again for at least 6 months, really going deep within the steps with a sponsor. We must honor those 3 c’s, they talk about in Al-Anon: You didn’t cause her behavior; you can’t control her life and decisions; you can’t cure her. Only she can make herself better, and only you can make yourself better.

In your email, again, all I see is a mom wanting the best for her daughter and herself. From your email, it sounds like you have done everything a mom could possibly do. Honestly, every one of my clients is simply doing what they feel will help the children and grandchildren. They say the just want the “best” for them. Sometimes, the “best” can just be sitting back and letting things unfold.

You mentioned you are seeing a therapist. Please continue this and possibly consider working with a grief counselor. I have some very good referrals I could email to you. I also work with families on a monthly basis over the phone. If you would like to email me, I would be glad to share how this is done. In your email, you stated your love of life. You now have some new steps to take in order to live every day with some joy and peace, and deepen your love of life. Work the twelve steps, work with a therapist or sponsor or a grief counselor like me…Just keep moving forward, one day at a time. You are welcome to email or call me to discuss this further at ccrtowns@aol.com, 916 539 4535.

Ricki Townsend, Board Certified Interventionist, Grief Counselor, Drug/Alcohol Counselor NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1

Getting over the grief of your child’s addiction or alcoholism

Spiritual Practice Aids RecoveryDiscovering that your child is dependent upon drugs or alcohol is like discovering that your child has cancer. It’s mind-numbing, yet demands action and answers. What are pain pills?Addicted to pot – is that even possible?  Heroin – you’re kidding, right?? What are the treatment options? What the heck is addiction or alcoholism, anyway? So many questions, so few easy answers.

And somewhere along the way, you will find that you need to grieve: for your child’s lost innocence, for the torment and fear you experience, for your collective lost dreams. Grieving, essential to your recovery, can take many forms:

  • Work through your grief with a counselor who will help you understand y our losses and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.
  • Grief can feel suffocating. A good exercise to release grief is to take a very deep breath, hold it tightly and then release it slowly. You will feel your body calm down.
  • It is also therapeutic to cry in the shower or yell in the car or smash pillows with a tennis racquet – anything physical to vent your sorrow, your anger, your disappointment.
  • You might also want to write a letter to whatever is running your life – addiction, fear, remorse – and tell it that you are taking back your life. You can also write down your sorrows and regrets and burn them in a fireplace or “burning bowl.” The important thing is to symbolically purge your “if only’s” so that you can free yourself to live more in the moment. 
  • There are also some great books that will help support recovery. Check out The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman or The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson. One day at a time, or even one moment at a time, you will learn to put your pain in its proper place. It will lose its power over you, and you will discover that you can survive your child’s addiction or alcoholism. 

Whoever said love was easy?

301883_8582 mother daughter walking on beachEarly in my grieving process, when I realized my love could not save the ones I love, a stranger handed out a reading at one of the support groups I was in. The printing does not reference an author. It touched me greatly and I kept a copy. Reading it made sense, but I just wasn’t sure I could do it – it seemed counter intuitive to my mother instincts. Here it is reprinted:

To protect our own integrity and peace of mind, we may have to redefine the word love. Sometimes no is the kindest word we can say to a family member or close friend who’s in serious trouble with alcohol, drugs, or any other ravaging obsession. Their suffering pushes all our “rescue” buttons. What we feel like doing is straightening out their messes and protecting them from farther harm. If we could, we would banish all their miseries with the touch of a magic wand! But we can’t. Often the only thing we can do to help our self-destructive loved ones is to sop helping completely. As hard as it is, and as unnatural as it feels, we may have to make some or all of the following declarations of love if we want to shorten our loved one’s path to the recovery turnoff.

  1. I love you, so I won’t buy your groceries or pay your rent.
  2. I love you, so I won’t loan you money or the uses of my credit.
  3. I love you, so I won’t call in sick for you at work.
  4. I love you, so I won’t cover your bounced check.
  5. I love you, so I won’t let you move in with me.
  6. I love you, so I won’t listen to your excuses or accept your lies.
  7. I love you, so I won’t make your bail.

If we know down deep that these words need to be spoken we need to practice them until we can get them out. Many recovering people only got turned around because someone loved them enough to give them a cold shoulder instead of a helping hand.