If I Knew Then…a Mother’s Reflection on her Daughter’s Addiction

You can learn more about guest blogger Linda and her daughter Tiffany in the Emmy award-winning documentary Collision Course.

I am often asked, “What do you wish you knew earlier about your daughter’s addiction?” by parents I meet at treatment centers in my community. I think back to how naïve I was and how little I knew about addiction.  First off, I was surprised that the pills prescribed to Tiffany were so addictive.  The labels on the sides of the bottles warned of the possibility of respiratory failure or liver damage if not using the proper dose.  They said not to drink alcohol with this medication or take other drugs with acetaminophen because there could be liver damage. But I thought surely her doctors would monitor her closely, and because I was home with her, I made sure she didn’t take more than she was prescribed.  The two pages enclosed with the prescription never mentioned the word “addicted” – only “habit-forming.”  I take an aspirin a day and this is habit-forming for me but not addictive.  Tiffany was taking pain meds for the pain from her broken neck.  I didn’t see this as an addiction – not yet anyway.  I didn’t really notice what was happening until she moved out of the house.  She was still on Paxil for her panic attacks, and  Ambien to help her sleep – both addictive drugs prescribed by her doctors.

I could understand the reasons for Tiffany’s medications at first because breaking her neck in the car accident was both painful and traumatic. Many more prescriptions continued from that point on.  My husband and I were clueless at first.  Tiffany couldn’t just stop taking her pain medication without going through terrible withdrawals.  I wished I was more educated.  At first I thought this was the only way she could stop. I didn’t know what detox was or what an interventionist or intervention was all about.  When we first came to the ER because Tiffany had overdosed, I thought they would keep her overnight and help her get well.  They never gave us places to call or a list of places they recommended for us to go get help. We didn’t know where to look except on the Internet, which offered a multitude of listings.  How can you tell the good treatment centers from the bad?

Summing it up, I wish I knew more about addiction – that it is an illness –that Tiffany couldn’t just stop.  I had seen addiction in my family tree, but I didn’t see it as an illness.  I saw it as making bad choices.  I remember thinking – I wished there was someone or somewhere I could go that would teach me about what’s going on in my daughter’s life.

I wish I knew who to turn to for help.  Seems like even the family doctor doesn’t really understand addiction.  I once went to an addiction specialist who decided she was going to handle Tiffany’s pills and give her 1 pill every 4 hours so that Tiffany didn’t take too many.  Even I knew by then how crazy that sounded!

I wish there was a way to find out if you have a predisposition to addiction.  Did Tiffany have this OR does addiction just happen if you continue to take addictive drugs like Vicodin over a long period of time?  The answer to that question is too late for my beautiful Tiffany, but it may save other children.

 

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.

Another Mother’s worst nightmare – substance abuse leads to incarceration

She reached out in desperation – “my son’s been arrested and may go to prison!” When I met up with her I recognized the anguish and sleepless, ringed-worried-eyes, once worn myself. This is the look of a parent whose love for their drug addict child and powerlessness leaves them broken.

First there was the guilt – she missed the phone call from him. She had decided to go to the class she signed up for and, then there was regret – she should have stayed home! Martydom mixed with obsessive spurts of energy focused on detective work; late night internet research for arrest records and prisons. Soon she self-consumed into fearful isolation – projecting the worst outcomes. Driven to fuel the fears, news articles: “Life in solitary, Inmates Hunger Strike; Violent, predatory offenders” to name a few. Undeniably a drug addict turned to criminal activity to support his disease, but NOT this and NOT THERE! He is her child, her son – my son, your child, and our hearts break open – we want to rescue. I know this well, I have the T-shirt.

How could I help? What could I do? My co-dependent nature is to rescue and smooth over the fear and sadness because I feel unease in these situations…I wanted to say “it will all be OK!” But that’s not the truth, it might not be OK, so instead, I listened. How does one go from helplessness to powerlessness, the latter being a state of surrender & acceptance, fueled by trust versus fear? Was she ready? Would I be of help or further complicate matters? For me, it took hard work in my 12-Step Program of Al-Anon.

I shared my own experience of being frightened for my sons’ fate. Like when I read about the prison riot which made front page news. I immediately went to that scary place visualizing my son’s vulnerability in what I conjured up. A mother’s worst nightmare – my imagination ran wild! How I then turned it over to my God Box, realizing no amount of worry or fret was going to influence the outcome of this! I later learned he missed the riot because he “skipped” breakfast – all validating why I have to let go and let God! This was a change in the way I reacted to fears about the future and I was given positive feedback – projecting would no longer serve me, reaching out would.

Why do addicts and alcoholics want to leave rehab?

The lips are moving - watch the behavior!About three weeks into rehab, your loved ones may want to leave.  That’s because the numbness of substance abuse has worn off, and they are looking at their lives through less bleary eyes, relatively speaking. And they don’t like what they see, so they blame it all on the rehab (or on you). But their recovery is a work in progress, and you need to be shooting for the gold standard of a 90-day stay in rehab, where the statistics for sustained sobriety are in their favor. So steel yourself to hear some of these reasons for wanting to leave rehab:

  • The people here are losers.
  • My roommates are much worse off than me.
  • I can fix myself without this place.
  • I wasn’t serious before but now I am.
  • I really wasn’t that bad off.
  • The rehab just wants your money.
  • I’m wasting my time here; I need to get back to school/work/life.
  • I don’t like the people here.
  • The people here don’t like me.
  • We don’t do anything here.
  • The counselors are mean/stupid/don’t understand me.
  • The beds are uncomfortable.
  • It’s too much work.
  • It’s not enough work.
  • I wasn’t that bad off before…Really!
  • I know what I need to do now.
  • I don’t like that God stuff in the 12 steps.
  • AA is for losers.
  • Rehab is for weak people, so I don’t need it.
  • The food sucks.

This is just a sampling of the reasons your loved one may toss your way. Forewarned is fore-armed!  So what should you say when you hear one of these complaints? You could say “Oh” or  “Hmmm.” You could say, “I’m sure you can work it out with your counselor.”  You might say, “We will support you in recovery, and this is the place where we will support you.”  You could say, “I love you, and this is the place where you can get healthy.” You could say “No,” which is a complete sentence all by itself.

Whatever you do, don’t help them leave. Don’t pick them up, drive them to their old home or drive them to your home. Circle the wagons with your family, and agree that you all need to stay the course. Don’t offer any alternatives to rehab, or they’ll be back at Square One.  And so will you.

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.

What I wish I would have known – reflecting on the journey

Quiet MomentsHow 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 daughters spiral into alcohol and drug addiction. So many things that I am wise to now that I did not know when it all started.  I think of all that has happened along the way and I sometimes cringe at the thoughts. I did spend 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 her substance abuse and how I thought that it was just a passing phase. I compared what she was doing to what I know occurred in my generation of high school and college and felt it would just blow over.
Well 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 into my daughter’s addiction. We have both 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

mother and daughter on beachDuring 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.  This is obviously a very healthy place to be 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 collective sigh, a chance to breathe deep and know you have opened your heart.

But 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 be nice to have a chance to have a do over.  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.   I can start by forgiving myself.

Learning to Trust Your Instincts

It has taken time and practice but I have learned to trust my instincts. I find that when I don’t trust my instincts it can lead to regret in the end. Sometimes it is very clear when you have an instinct that something is not right other times it’s those subtle, nagging thoughts. There are also times when you hear something that doesn’t add up and typically you should realize it right at that moment, but you sometimes think you should give someone the ‘benefit of the doubt’ or feel you should trust them. I was reminded of this recently in a couple different ways which gave me cause to pause and think about it.
One signal on this topic was an article that I read that gave a series of things to do to help your kids stay away from drugs and alcohol. One of the suggestions was to drug test your teen. The argument was that as parents we want to trust our kids and that even when asked our teen may downplay or deny any drug or alcohol use. My belief is that if someone is contemplating drug testing their teen, they probably have an instinct telling them something is wrong that they need to address. When my child’s drug and alcohol use became a problem there were many signals and instincts that I had, yet, I didn’t want it to be true. In retrospect, I should have been facing all of these signals and instincts with every tool or action that I could find. What the article pointed out is that one small act of drug testing to confirm what you probably already know, and then can openly address, is better than having your child become hurt or killed due to drug and alcohol use. I know now to act on my instincts, even if it is uncomfortable, for those I love.

Escaping the Prison We Create Around a Child’s Addiction

It’s  time to shake out the carpets, clean the closets, and unburden ourselves of the things that don’t serve us well. This includes misconceptions, old habits and self-flagellation.

I’ve written before about the squirrel that I trapped in my back yard.  He had been creating havoc in my attic, and disaster loomed as he gnawed on electrical wires, roof shingles and more.  I was relieved to capture him safely in a humane cage, load him into my minivan and transport him to a local wilderness area where he could play out his unfettered squirrel life.  Problem was, he didn’t want to leave the opened cage even though freedom beckoned through the side door of my van.  He was paralyzed by some artificial sense of captivity while freedom stared him in the face.  Suddenly, something clicked, and he hurtled out the cage like a cannonball shot out the side door of my van.  He was as free as the wind.

I’ve been that squirrel. I’ve been a prisoner of my own making. I’ve ruminated endlessly over the “should have, would have, could haves.” I’ve pondered, theorized, blamed, analyzed, and worn a hair shirt with the best of them. Equal parts pointlessness and pain; what a dreadful Victim Cocktail I chose to imbibe.

Somewhere along the way, I had a squirrel-like epiphany, and I dove for freedom.  I stopped being the prisoner of my own regrets  I got out of the cage of my “Stinking Thinking, as they say in Al-anon.  They also say, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” (author unknown).  So out with the old, in with the new.  Time to change my attitude, to choose not to suffer, and to unburden myself of those regrets and ruminations that serve only to imprison me.

Dads and Grads: – For this parent, the month of June is an emotional trigger and reflection of how teenage drug and alcohol abuse is the main character in a 3-part play

ACT 1: THE EXPECTATION

June brings memories. Traditional high school graduation activity returns me back momentarily to a time that was fraught with emotions: elation as well as disappointments and regrets.

I desperately believed that when and if my first born child finished high school, everything would be better. Finish high school meant participating in the main event: the graduation ceremony. But the years, months and weeks prior to graduation were filled with doubt, anxiety and worry. His graduating was definitely important to me; I had a lot of expectations around it. Imagine the difficulty in “pre-orders” for announcements…invitations, gown & cap, to name a few – what if he didn’t make the grade? How do you plan a graduation reception with relatives and friends if you are not even sure? I was certain I was the only parent with this kind of worry. Graduation is an expensive ordeal– not just the ceremony but all the school events and merchandising around it. My worry about the investment and fanfare for naught was a driving force in my obsessive behavior to make this happen and if it did not happen, I would be very resentful.

He did graduate and I’ll never forget how proud I was and how much I had banked on that event being the solution to all my problems with him. Life lessons have shown me otherwise.

Addiction is a progressive disease. As my beloved child struggled into adulthood, he had many accomplishments all shadowed with the dark & negative impact of drug addiction. The tug of the drug would be his driver and I had no control over it. A few years of recovery would reveal that graduation from high school should have been the furthest concern for this loving parent. With a new perspective, what seems important just isn’t!  Turns out, expectations breed resentments!