Jail Visitation is a familiar setting. I’ve been a visitor here often, and it spans many years. The locations change, but the signs are the same. This is where I go to see my son when his disease lands him there. Over time, my visitation attitude has changed. It used to be I would try to reason with him; tell him what I think he needs to hear, show disappointment because he’s not doing what I think he should be doing and chasing my dream that he will get it this time. It’s too hard to keep working that angle with no benefit. Eventually, my desires for my son’s recovery became no longer necessary to outwardly express them. His incarceration is a result of drug addiction, period, end of story. And when I accept that, my relationship with him is on neutral territory: he’s not on the hot seat, and I’m not the interrogator. It’s this change in attitude that allows me to choose that visit, because jail visitation has many inconveniences. I would inwardly fight the system with its unyielding rules for visitors. Now I endure the rules and regulations about what I wear, what I carry in, and for those 30 minutes, I forfeit a day. But it’s worth it because now I’m just a loving mom visiting my son. After I’m “admitted in” I embrace the 40 minute wait. There is no reading material allowed and our chairs face a TV that is never turned on. As other visitors file through I begin to get anxious about what to do with all that time sitting still waiting for the clock to turn to visit time. There’s really nothing else but to twittle my thumbs. Then I remember that I can invite my Higher Power in; asking for guidance on how I can be fully present with my son. I can turn inward to prayer and meditation. I have concerns, but I’m not consumed by them anymore. I wish his situation will turn to better days, but I don’t dwell on the future too much. And then the fastest 30 minutes of the day flashes by, and I’m grateful that I can visit my son and that he enjoys the time with me as well.
When our beloved addicts and alcoholics descend into the hellhole of chemical dependency, we are right by their sides. We travel on parallel journeys through depression and anxiety, financial and legal chaos, shame and isolation, and the physical ravages of stress and sleeplessness. This is called a family disease for so many reasons: it even feels contagious.
So much of what is written for the addict or alcoholic child applies to parents, too. I picked up Moments of Clarity again last night and was magnetically drawn to this passage by actress Kelli McGillis: “There were many things keeping me from recovery. One was the fact that I thought I could do it—I thought I could do everything by myself. When I finally realize I had a problem, still l I thought, “I should be able to handle this. I’ve handled all these tragic events in my life and I can handle this one, too.”
Although she was writing about her alcoholic self, she could have been writing about me. That illusion of power explained much of my fevered pitch as I tried to fix my child.
Understanding that I cannot do this on my own – realizing that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable—was the key to the kingdom for me as I began to relinquish my illusory hold on my child’s sobriety. Instead, I reached out for help from friends, counselors and a divine power much greater than me, and I began to claim my own recovery.
I had heard in recovery rooms that when I take responsibility for my loved ones, I am robbing them of the dignity they deserve to experience life on their own. When I continue to harp, beg, plea, judge or offer advice, I’m ultimately in their business, trying to force solutions and eventually will lose their respect. Worse, I could be adding to the bad opinion they already have about themselves.
This is not the mother I wanted to be! How could I be concerned but not consumed? How was it possible to love them unconditionally when my fear for their life was at stake? I was so obsessed with their problems, thinking I knew the answer; I would bring home pamphlets from on Alcoholics Anonymous and leave the literature scattered around the house in hopes they would pick it up and see the light! That never worked either.
After being in Al-Anon for a while, I eventually learned tools to keep the focus on me and stay out of their business. Slowly I began to see results. One example I still remember to this day was when my son called and asked if he could come over for dinner and “talk.” Many recent events had happened that were concerning – I was well aware of where he was: jobless, homeless and alone. I was a little apprehensive, wondering what news he would bring this time. After a nice dinner with general conversation, he shared that he thought he might have a drinking problem. Oddly, I was elated to hear him admit a problem. There were 3 things I was able to do that day that made me proud of my program. I said “oh” which helped me compose my thoughts before blurting out something hurtful or unnecessary. The next thing out of my mouth was that I did not know if he was an alcoholic or not but that there were people who could help him learn about it and that I might still have their pamphlet. (I prayed I still had all the literature long put away). When he was getting ready to leave and I had no idea where he was staying (in his car?) I let him know how much I loved him and that I hoped to see him soon.
The most important lesson for me was that by being non-judgmental, not pretending to know the answer, and further, not turning his confidence into a nagging session, I was able to be the mother I want to always be: RESPECTFUL, CARING, and LOVING. I helped where I could then I allowed him to decide what he would do with it. Then I turned it over to my Higher Power, as I placed my son’s name into my God Box later that night. This released me from obsessive thoughts of worry that before had consumed me.
Do you recall this commercial?
He’s on the phone; it’s lodged between his head and shoulder so his hands are free. He’s pale and sweat is beading on his forehead. The butcher knife in one hand, his other hand holding the cutting board, the stage is definitely a kitchen setting. He’s having a conversation with someone and at first we think he is getting lessons to carve a chicken. We don’t see who he is talking to yet but it appears someone is instructing him. Then the camera takes us to the other caller – a medical doctor with his white lab coat hanging on a hook behind him, he is dressed in scrubs. The doctor proceeds to communicate what to do, and at some point we understand his instructions are for open heart surgery! He is step by step explaining how to determine where to make the incision on the caller’s own sternum. The caller looks down at his chest with a befuddled and very anxious look. Finally he asks the doctor “shouldn’t you be doing this?”
That is a picture forever embedded in my brain of how my parenting attempts to control my son played out. I would take on roles that did not belong to me, all the while thinking I knew best. Today I can recognize when I’m in over my head, but for a while this wasn’t so clear. I hear alcoholics in recovery say denial of reality is a symptom of their disease. It’s a symptom of my disease too! I have picked up tools in my own recovery to help me figure out if the situation at hand belongs to me or someone else. I stop and think “ shouldn’t you be doing this?” sooner. Whether it’s my Higher Power or a medical doctor, I let go of the urge to think I’m in charge and turn it over to those who know better! And I have this commercial, a mental image, to remind me of the insanity I could easily find myself doing again…
I still experience strong emotions when people (landlords, relatives, employers, friends) contact me about a status or question about one of my sons. There’s a lot of collateral damage floating around out there and it pops up from time to time. The reality is their drug addiction left untreated progressed to typical outcomes: irresponsibility, vagabond lifestyles, and, in some instances, drug related crime. As a result, I’m left standing as the only viable source for information – apparently. It’s been a few years since the extreme drama and the intensity and duration of the feelings I get may have decreased, but not entirely – I never know when something or someone can trigger a relapse. I’m hard wired to default to a defensive position. Knowing that, I have tools to use that are healthier. Put simply, I quit taking it personally.
Just the other day 2 squad cars and uniformed officers approached my front door looking for my son who is currently incarcerated. I don’t have control over that. They came to my house and I have to “deal with them.” My feelings are a force within, so strong I’m momentarily fraught. I’ve come to understand this is a common experience for a parent whose child’s early adult years are plagued with substance abuse and left untreated lead to stronger co-dependency behavior.
Today, I’m better at handling the “outside my control” matters. I’m able to distinguish what’s my business and more importantly, what’s not. The feelings of “what will the neighbors think” are still there, but I know that what other people think of me is ALSO NOT MY BUSINESS. The thoughts of “don’t you guys have computers to look someone up?” are still there. But just because I think it doesn’t mean I have to tell them how to do their job! It’s not my business!
Because of healthy boundaries, a strong program of recovery and a Higher Power in my life, I have learned that I can be respectful and guarded versus the sick, reactionary, raging co-dependent that I once was. This is all about my own recovery from my affliction of the family disease of co-dependency.
I accept that sometimes I am not able to see things as they really are; this is part of my condition from the family disease. If I’m aware of the situation, I can reflect before doing anything. I can ask myself, “is this something I have control over”? If I choose to engage, are the results going to out-weigh the consequences of it? Once I’ve got the awareness figured out, there is acceptance. I accept that “you do not agree with me” or “you may be right!” or “the situation has nothing to do with me” or “it’s none of my business”. Acceptance does not always mean approval. I can accept where my sons are today, but I don’t have to like it. When I think before I act, I find I have more choices in the relationships I’m in. It can be in the form of no action at all, stalling, saying no, setting boundaries, removing myself from the situation, turning to my Higher Power for guidance or calling someone to talk things over and reason things out. I have learned that if I am at dis-ease over something, I must look inward to my own character traits that are allowing me to feel this way. I have control over how I react to people, places and things – but I’m powerless over “THEM”.
I used to be a reactionary person. This old behavior never once helped me. I would be angry, upset, resentful, impatient and tired from wasted energy. Today, my relationship with my sons, my family and friends is based on respect and acceptance – especially in difficult situations.
I read that humility means having an attitude of honesty and simplicity along with a mindset of being teachable. This seems like a trait I’d like to possess more, especially in light of having loved ones in their addiction. There have been circumstances where I see my own humility. It seems to show up when I have a negative reaction to something. I ask my Higher Power, “What’s my part in this?” I most always get an answer (sometimes the answer is there but I ignore it). This is an opportunity to recognize my shortcomings and turn them back over to His care. My serenity is restored. I’m willing to listen. I am willing to learn.
One day during the holidays I was outside on our back deck. While outside, my son had called from prison and I missed the call. If you don’t pick up, they can’t leave a voice-mail. Often they lose their turn for that day. I immediately went into ANGER for having missed the call. What was I doing outside? Why did I have to do that? Then I went into blame, I blamed the dogs who were whining to go out…then I blamed my relative for having her dogs at my house and me having to “dog-sit” them. I was getting irrational yet my emotions were very strong. My part? If I were to be honest, I’d have to admit I wanted to go outside and pull a few weeds in the beautiful rare sunshine we were having. The dogs were just the excuse. My sponsor would say “life goes on – you can’t wait or live your life with expectations from someone else.” My son will call again when he is able and I will receive his call when I am able. And this is exactly what happened. Upon reflection, I realized how sad I was to have missed his call and I was able to feel that sorrow but not have it dominate the rest of my day. Old behaviors pop up and I’m reminded how easily I can relapse. With a program of recovery, I have tools to help me rebound. I turn my old behaviors into moments of humility and my serenity is restored.
My kids suffering always pushed my rescue buttons! And with the progressive nature of the Family Disease, my mom-ma bear protection became ineffective and was my first defeat in my war on addiction. Too cunning and baffling, the serious trouble drugs and alcohol created for all of us required counter-intuitive measures. What’s right is wrong, what’s up is down; it was as if I had taken a tumble through the looking glass. Yet oddly enough, nonsense became logic when looked at differently. I took a different turn and my willingness to try and see things in an unfamiliar way would ultimately be the best thing I could do.
These offensive measures were like being on a hike in uncharted wilderness; the trail markers are Jabberwocky: confusing or missing completely. I would have to believe on other signs to keep the right course. I could use recovery tools that were around me, my Higher Power and my hiking partner to strategize. As hard as it is, as unnatural as it feels, if I wanted to shorten the path to a recovery turnoff, my complete dependence on familiar trail markers would have to change. The “I love you so I won’t…” path was the treacherous climb out of the steep canyon. In small increments I could see sane things reappear in my life. The trail head was always there.
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.
For a mother in a recovery program for co-dependency, sometimes unconscious triggers for relapse happen by outside influences to close to my heart. The ultimate one for me came when my sons’ girlfriend announced she was going to have his baby. My thinking went immediately to the bleak future. My thinking said I should be involved – they are not capable of raising a child! These projections were a result of my fears and rewarded as “mother knows best” as I took control and became in charge.
Back in my disease, hard lessons were soon to come to my way. I could no more control the “mother” of my future grandchild any more than I could control addiction. I am powerless! I had choices: to participate in the agony of involvement – or, to release myself from the crazy behavior emanating from the source and feeding my fears. Choosing option 1, involvement to the max, I became troubled by the deception and lies. And I kept wondering why I dismissed signs that something was amiss.
Thank goodness I was not alone – with the help of my 12-Step program, talking with my sponsor and others, I was able to discern what I had control over and what reality was. And I even got lessons from my Higher Power to help me Let Go of the future and be present in the here and now.
Ultimately, I was able to accept and let her go. There wasn’t going to be a grandchild and possibly never was – to this day I do not know the truth about that and that’s OK too. All I know is when I detach the better I am. I can accept the disease but I don’t have to participate – in fact, keeping a healthy distance from my loved ones has proven to be the best countermeasure for all my troubles.