Did I cause my son’s chemical dependency?

Just say no to drugsThis is an “encore” post from Eliza

I sat next to a pediatrician at a charity dinner the other 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.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

If you knew others’ challenges, would you have more tolerance?

Truth be Told, Parent of Addict to Parent of Addict, Self to Self

A friend introduced me to someone whose teenagers turned into addicts but now older, are doing well. “His story has great hope for others”, my friend said.   Well, I thought, I’m always open to talking to others who share a language close to my own.

What I found was a man still deeply moved by the turmoil and anguish he experienced as if it were yesterday. In actuality it was 6 years ago.  I was not surprised by this.  I don’t believe you ever get over the events of having a child struggle with addiction; you learn to live with it. 

We immediately related to each other’s experience: the missing checks, the bank statement confirming the dreaded truth; the full blown lying, arrests, rehabs and relapses.  How college funds were replaced with otherworldly things:  pawn shops, psychological counseling, sober living, wilderness programs and such.  What I found was a man not unlike myself.  We both learned that survival would take a change in how we parent.  He did this with counseling and outside help.  I related to that too.  I don’t believe you can do this alone.

It’s true, his kids, now in their mid twenties, are doing better today.  He even sees mental maturing and critical thinking skills that drugs took away from their developing brains.  I sensed his recent financial support for both had left some doubt in his mind.  Though it felt different this time, he expressed concern in certain “behaviors” and our eyes said “possible co-dependent thinking.” 

Here we both shared an unspoken truth – their future lies in their ability and desire to fight for sobriety, not our wanting them to be sober.  We have little to no influence in this.  If they are OK today, well that’s nice.

We have grown an outer layer of defense about how one day can change to the next.  We won’t allow obsessive thoughts to ponder the “what ifs.”  And we always need to moderate our urges to help:  Will it hurt our new relationship?  Do I have expectations?  Am I trying to control or manipulate?  Did they ask for help, or am I jumping in where I don’t belong?

Ready to recover from your child’s addiction or alcoholism? Consider this.

mirror on the wallSo often, we ask ourselves, “When will they figure it out?  When will they quit destroying their lives (and ours)?” Here’s the real question:  “When will we  stop letting them destroy our lives?” Consider these points:

  • If I didn’t cause my child’s substance use disorder (which is a brain disease), then why did I keep blaming myself?
  • Why did I feel guilty for his choices and his behavior?
  • If I cannot control his behavior, then why did I insert myself into his life in a meddling and pointless way (e.g., calling his employer when HE lost HIS job.  Paying his legal bills when HE broke the law.)
  • If I cannot cure his chemical dependency, then why was I more committed to his recovery than he was?
  • Why did I obsess about his alcohol and drug use when it had absolutely no impact whatsoever on his behavior? My worrying and stalking was truly a sorry testament to my addiction to his addiction.  I became emotionally and psychologically intertwined with his disease, a strangling co-dependency.

We didn’t cause our children’s chemical dependency.  We can’t control it. We cannot cure it.  As I consider those  basic facts of addiction and alcoholism, they have come to dictate the way I now approach recovery—MY recovery.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…I’m also sick, after all. Once I came to that painful and stark realization, we both had a shot at recovery.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Have you set your mind to achieve your goals?

Slowly unraveling versus slowly learning to grow and move forward

It seems that when you have traveled the journey of addiction with your loved one over a period of time, you begin to have a sixth sense when things are beginning to falter. I couldn’t always put my finger on it, but I could tell when something was off. Sometimes it was a lack of contact, sometimes it was a particular attitude while talking, and sometimes it was just a feeling. I remember being in one of those modes where I knew something was unraveling. It was as simple as a mention of some new friends – some in recovery, some not, some struggling in their addiction. While I wanted to coach, persuade, and convince her to hang tight to those in recovery, I knew she would follow her own path. I knew I was powerless over what she decided to do.

While I can speculate the chain of events that can lead to ‘unraveling’, it is futile. And it is always a lesson for me just as much as for her. What could I do to ward off impending doom? How could I convince her to stay focused? When should I actively intervene? The answers were simple: nothing, can’t and shouldn’t. I have one job – to ‘mind my own business.’ It doesn’t mean that if she asks for my advice that I shouldn’t give it – I pray for those opportunities for they give me the false notion that I can control something in her life! But they also give me comfort that she wants to engage in healthy discussions. But, Alas, she does not always ask for my advice, she lives her life on her terms. And I am constantly learning to be a bystander in order to help her to continue to learn and grow.

Unhitching Your Wagon from an Addicted Child

Having a chemically dependent child brought out the worst of my smothering instincts….oops, make that mothering instincts.  In a vain, misguided effort to protect my son from himself, I did things for him that he should have been doing for himself.  At one point I even became aware that I dove in to answer the questions that my husband asked him at the dinner table.  Part of me wanted to share only the sanitized version of his life with my husband, hoping to spare him the worry and heartbreak that I held close to my vest.  Perhaps I was also trying to convince myself that things weren’t as bad as they seemed.  Perception is reality, especially to a co-dependent mother.

I wanted to protect my child, to fix him, to make his addiction evaporate with a magical kiss. Instead, I became so sickly entwined that when my doctor asked me how I was doing, I responded with a litany of my son’s symptoms and woes  “Wow,” my doctor responded.  “I didn’t even ask about your son, but I guess he is weighing heavily on your mind.”  That was an understatement—getting him better was my singular preoccupation for a torturous stretch of time.

Quite naively, I thought I could outwit and outwill my child’s addiction. But I learned that it doesn’t work that way. Our child’s—and our–recovery requires us to “unhitch” our wagon from our children. At first it seemed selfish—how could I abandon my child??  I slowly learned that moving out of the way and letting my child steer his own course was the healthiest and most loving action I could take, for him and for me.   (Our “Letting Go” Meeting in a Box can help you make the break in a healthy and positive way.)

Where ever you go, you take addiction with you (or not)

At the peak of a child’s chemical dependency, one of my friends and her husband bought a camper so they could retreat into the wild and walk on pine needles instead of eggshells.  Other friends have kicked their kids out of their homes but permitted them to sleep in the yard or in the garage, a safe outpost that (in theory) spares the rest of the home from the insanity.  A mom friend asked me if she should move away from her family’s hometown with her daughter in tow after her daughter left rehab. Or maybe she should send her daughter away instead?   I wondered the same thing myself.

One year, I wouldn’t permit my son into our home when we were vacationing overseas, so he spent one Christmas Eve in the Hotel Honda in our driveway.   Was he in my home?  No.  Was he in my head?  Yes. So moving away from our home or travelling overseas didn’t solve the problem, which wasn’t my son.  It was me.

That’s because, as the saying goes, “Wherever you go, you are there.”  In other words, I bring my baggage along with me. At my darkest hour, I was at least as wedded to my child’s addiction as he was, and I could never leave it behind no matter where I went.  It colored all I saw and did, and I missed out on a lot…all for what??  My incessant obsession did nothing to help him get sober–it only tortured me.

If I have to lug something along with me, why not make it a dream instead of a demon?  Why not choose faith over fear?  We get to pack the baggage in our lives; let’s choose something that will nourish us, rather than deplete us, as we travel down this road called Life.

When helping hurts our chemically-dependent children

I recently found an old article in the New York Times called, When Helping Hurts.”  The article explored American parents who are ever more involved in their children’s lives.  They schedule play dates, help them select their college classes, make decisions for their children that their children should be making for themselves.  As authors  Finkel and Fitzsimons write, “We know that all of this assistance has costs—depleted bank balances, constricted social lives—but we endure them happily, believing that we are doing what is best for our children.”

And they are writing about parenting non-chemically dependent children, not addicts or alcoholics!  The diluted sense of personal responsibility increases and the destruction piles on when you dance the dance of co-dependency with a sick child.

It’s a fine line to walk:  how do you know when you are helping, and how do you know when you are hurting? Or, as the authors ask, “How can we help our children achieve their goals without undermining their sense of personal accountability and motivation to achieve them?”  Ask yourself, “Can he/she do this on her own?  If the answer is “Yes,” then get out of the way.

Should you purchase a bus pass or bicycle so she can get to AA or NA meetings:  Yes, that is constructive.  Drive her to AA or NA meetings when she can get there herself, albeit with a bit or work or inconvenience? No, that is crippling.

Should you ask him which AA meetings he is attending or what his sponsor says?  No, that is his business, not yours.  Should you require that he tests clean in order to live in your home or receive your financial support?  Yes, that is your business, your money, your life.

We convey an unspoken message when we help unnecessary:  “You are not good enough.  I am smarter/wiser/stronger.  You cannot make it without my help.” We stand a chance of reclaiming our lives, and letting our children reclaim theirs, only when we support their recovery in a healthy way.

Dangerous Tools that Fuels Co-Dependent Behavior – Why?

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.