Parents of addicts and alcoholics, ditch the guilt!

Hands releasing oxygen bubblesThere is an endless supply of guilt and shame in the world of addiction. And when your chemically-dependent child is in early recovery, you certainly don’t have to like him or her. That can be near to impossible to do, anyway, because the hangover of deceit and blame can take a while to blow over. Don’t feel guilty about feeling resentment for the chaos created by addicts and addiction. You don’t have to like your child at the moment. But you do need to love them if you hope to have a healthy relationship in the future.

You also need to love yourself. If you are wearing a hair shirt of guilt, you need to take it off and stop the “Why didn’t I…?” and “I should have….” Self-flagellation never helped anybody get better.

“When we know better, we do better” applies to both addicts/alcoholics and their parents. When our beloved children begin to confront their chemical dependency, they become more capable of managing it. And when we confront our relationship with them and their disease, we can begin to heal as individuals and as a family.

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.

Reclaiming your serenity with “re-language”

Mental Illness and AddictionI am so fortunate to have XM radio, and sometimes catch Oprah Winfrey’s Lifeclass. One day I listened to her with her guest, Iyanla Vanzant.  (To learn more about Lifeclass, click here)

Iyanla Vanzant, an inspirational and new thought spiritual teacher, is such a kick and is always giving out little one-liners that provoke me to think! She’d discuss how Deceptive Intelligence keeps us from spiritual growth and screamed to the viewer: “RE-LANGUAGE!” Make no mistake, re-language was an aggressive verb, a call to action! I applied it to my own experience of codependency with young adult children in addiction:

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: I had to kick my kids out of my home. This is so dramatic and feeds the guilt I held for experiencing a scenario I wished did not have to happen. I took on responsibility, as if I could have done something else to minimize the impact. RE-LANGUAGE: My kids chose not to live by my boundaries, so they left.

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: If I let go, they might fail, get arrested, go to jail. There is a dangerous side effect when I think I know outcomes, especially if I believe I can orchestrate the future – Guilt, Disappointment, Denial, Shame. RE-LANGUAGE: I can’t control the choices my kids make, but they have a right to make them, even if I don’t agree with it.

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: His girlfriend introduced him to drugs, I blame her. RE-LANGUAGE: She is a child of God, cleverly disguised as a drug addict (another gem from Iyanla).

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: When I figure out recovery, I’ll be able to show them how to do it! I believed this to the core. So my early help seeking behavior had an end game! I’d pick up a speaker CD from an AA or recovered Drug Addict, and I’d strategize how my sons could listen to it. If they just listened, then …. I was still thinking what I was doing in Al-Anon would help me to the solution for me my kids. I was still trying to control it. Oh, yeah, definately Deceptive Thinking! RE-LANGUAGE: My children will get recovery when they are ready, on their own, in HIS time, and I’m not in charge. I’m just a child of God,  cleverly disguised as a know it all!

 

The perils of parenting a substance-abusing adult child

It has been said over and again, parents are the biggest influence over their children.  I must of thought that meant for life.  There were times I might have had a moment of influential pride – what I call the “my child is an honor student syndrome.”  I never went so far as to affix it to my car bumper! I was more apt to give my children credit where credit was due.  THEY worked hard at it…HE always had a love for basketball…HE was driven to pursue…I don’t know where they got it!”  But there are situations where rightful ownership is distorted by pride –  “Yep, that’s my boy!” With unsaid attitude: “I raised ‘em right!”

When behavior turns risky and substance abuse leads to addiction, the parental influence becomes nonexistent.  But, like me, most parents don’t stop trying to reclaim their influence.  And if crime related incidences by underage adults happen, we are quick to blame the parents casting quick judgment – “she deserves imprisonment” – “How can the parents allow that to happen?”

Like most of us struggling with an addict in the family, I stressed with martyrdom.  I spent every waking moment trying to prevent or stop the unthinkable consequences of the risky behavior.  I acted as if I had the ability to stop it.  I acted like I caused it.  I acted to regain that parental influence I was entitled to have!  I’ll admit there was a bit of guilt, what I call the  “what will the neighbor’s think syndrome.”

The flip side of giving credit where credit is due is taking responsibility for something I don’t own, good or bad.  It’s easier to allow them the glory of success than to allow them the dignity of living with a disease.  Who wouldn’t give their right arm to take away their pain?  What good did it do in trying?   It is this distorted thinking that causes further problems in helping my children recover from their drug addiction.   The perils of parenting are for life but it’s never too late to improve on it.

Do I Feel Guilty About My Son’s Chemical Dependency?

I sat next to a pediatrician at a charity dinner one night, and the talk turned to teen addiction.  He posed a thought-provoking question:  “Do you feel guilty that your son became an addict?”  If he had asked me that same question earlier in the game, my answer would have been an unequivocal “Yes.” I was wracked with guilt (co-mingled with anger, shame, horror and fear) because I believed I had somehow created an addict by failing my son in some unintended way, although I wasn’t certain what that was.  Was I too controlling in my son’s young life?  Not controlling enough?  Were my standards unreachably high, or perhaps too low?  Was I too much of a mother to him and not enough of a friend, or vice versa?  My painful self-examination and self-flagellation was endless, but still—I had no answers.  I didn’t know what I had done—right or wrong.  In the rear view mirror, I began to look at my parenting as an abject failure.

My perspective started to change as I learned how, for some, drugs and alcohol take on a life of their own.  It is a neurological, inheritable, biological reaction unrelated to willpower, character or desire. Apparently I passed that gene on to my son from my side of the family tree– unknowingly, as addiction hasn’t reared its ugly head in me. (The gift that keeps on giving across generations –Uugh).  Still, my son has chemical dependency in his genetic toolkit where it keeps company with courage, determination and his very kind nature, among many other great qualities.  Those are the gifts that he uses today in his life of active recovery.  He got those from me, too.

But I won’t take credit for the good stuff any more than I take blame for the bad.  My son was dealt a genetic hand of cards; how he plays it is up to him. And how I play the hand that life deals me is up to me, and that includes discarding the guilt card whenever I can.

What I Wish I would have Known – Moving forward with Peace

How many times in our life do we wish we could go back and do something over again? Whether it’s something major or minor, we all have those moments of ‘what if’s’ and ‘if I would have known…’ I’m no different; I have often ruminated about how the journey unfolded with my loved ones spiral into addiction. So many things that I am wise to now that I did not know when it all started 5 years ago. Just writing ‘5 years’ makes me cringe…not because life is still chaotic but because I think of all that has happened along the way. I spent the first few years mired in guilt and regret over so many aspects of what transpired. I look back on how I didn’t realize the gravity of the substance abuse and how I thought that it was just a passing phase. I thought about what was happening and what I knew occurred in my generation of high school and college and felt it would just blow over.

Things are different for this generation, the drugs are different, the access is different and the internet makes anything and everything just a click away. I have ceased feeling guilty and regretful, I realize that life unfolded and there is no going back. I also realize that I am powerless over other people; maybe I could have affected the outcome, maybe not. We can only put so many controls on our children and while there are many steps we can take to reduce the risks, there is no magic formula. We are all parents who love our kids and are doing our best to raise them into responsible adults. I realize that part of that journey for me included a detour with my family’s struggle with a loved one’s addiction. We have all grown and become who we are now through the experience. I am grateful for the learning and growth; I chose to look at the positives amongst the heartache and the gifts of recovery.

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.

Recovering from a child’s addiction: it’s an inside job

mirror on the wallOf all the people in the world, I expected that my sister would best understand the hell our family went through during my son’s active addiction. After all, I poured my heart out to her, shared grim news, and cried on her shoulder for years. Of course, she “got it, “ didn’t she??

Yet one day, when I recounted one particularly difficult and terrifying stretch, she asked me, “Why didn’t you…?” Or maybe she asked, “Did you think of…?” I am not exactly sure what she asked because I was so blindsided by the feelings it evoked in me.

I felt judged. I felt like I had done something stupid or overlooked some obvious solution to that pesky little addiction problem. And yes – part of me was jealous that her has been a relative cakewalk while my family ate s**t sandwiches for the longest stretch.  Or so it seemed:  you would think that I learned from addiction that you never know what’s going on in another’s home, but apparently I hadn’t mastered that life lesson yet.  And I was mad that, in spite of the deepest fears that I shared with her, she seemed unable to see the world through my dark lenses.

What I really wanted to hear from her was, “I am sorry. I know that was a terrifying time for you.” But what I “heard” in her question says so much more about me than about her. It’s not her fault that she didn’t have to walk through my hell, one that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Clearly, I still need to work on my own recovery.  I need to take care of myself when I am feeling like a victim of life’s unfairness.  I need to let go of the past and learn to live in the moment. And I need to be aware that an innocent question may appear to be harsh and judgmental and can open a Pandora’s Box of sorrow and pain.

Who has time to fix the addict when I need to work on myself?  Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

I’m Just Mom

“If you break parole, expect the police to come knocking at your door. If you escape from prison, the police can break your door down!” These were factoids one son shared several years ago. It was on the heels of discussing his brother. Nothing specific mind you, but in generalities since neither he nor us had heard from him for months. We were wondering what would be the next event and while I was concerned about a relapse and his welfare, he was concerned about what could happen to us. “The parents are the first line of offense since our address is the last noted lived-at-location.”

True or not, I reminded my son that we have had plenty of experience with the police at our door. Though it has been several years since the last uniformed visit, much has changed since then. For one, I no longer live in fear of authority. I’m not the one breaking any laws. And for my loved ones, their disease took them way beyond any moral standards they grew up with – it was never about that. So, I’ve learned a lot about addiction and my relation to it. I have to accept new frontiers as I continue to grow and trust in my Higher Power.  At the same time, I get to respect their right to deal with life on the “outside” and not interfere or even begin to think I know what’s best.  Parole may be one of the many phases of recovery, I’m just mom.

Forgiveness is Freedom-Forgive yourself and 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.