When I first really “got it” that my son was addicted to opiates, I was saddened, shocked, terrified and embarrassed. Somehow, it felt like I was responsible, that I had failed as a parent, that I had led my child astray. I felt like I was wearing the scarlet letter “A” for all the world to see. I expected to start bleeding spontaneously from my heart, my hands. If I had known then what I know now, the isolation would have vaporized and I would have felt in good company. My neighborhood is no different than the rest of the nation, where 20% of high school kids abuse prescription meds, according to a recent CDC study. Helloooo, neighbor! Is that loud teenage cursing coming from your house or mine?
Those feelings abated as I became more educated. For those who insist that addiction/alcoholism is a disease of character, I refer to babies who are born addicted… what juvenile delinquents they are and how they demonstrate a stunning lack of willpower and character. That generally turns the conversation in a different direction.
I know that most people don’t know what I know about addiction/alcoholism: that it was defined as a disease more than 50 years ago; that brain imaging reveals the misfiring parts of the addict’s brain; that nutritional approaches show great promise for recovery. I try to share that knowledge with others because wisdom is key to recovery for parents and their beloved children.
As addiction becomes more understood and more public, we have an opportunity to support the other moms who are joining our ranks in fear, despair and sorrow. Together, we create a life brigade of experience, strength and hope.
Forewarned is forearmed. Get ready for your beloved addict or alcoholic to tell you why they can’t stay in rehab:
- “The rehab just wants your money.”
- “I’ve got my drinking/drug use under control now.”
- “Everyone here is worse off than me.”
- “We don’t do anything worthwhile here.”
- “I’m all better now” or “I can get better on my own.”
- “I know better now and have figured things out.”
- “The counselors are mean and have stupid rules.”
- “The food is bad here.”
- “I don’t like going to the meetings.”
- “I need to get back to work and stop wasting my time here.”
So how can you respond? Here are some options:
- Just say “Oh” or “Hmmm” or “Let me think about that.”
- “That sounds like something you could discuss with your counselor”
- “We support your recovery here, and if you choose to leave rehab, you’ll have to find somewhere else to live.”
- “This is the right place for you to get healthy.”
- “I love you, and I know you can do this.”
SCENARIO: You have received bad news again, either from your son or daughter directly, their employer, landlord, friend, relative, fill-in-the-blanks. This time the emotional roller-coaster is curving through the anger turn. You think, “This is the 6th, 7th, 12th, 100th or another LAST time!” In yet another opportunity to drill into them the PROBLEMS they are creating for themselves, maybe this time you blast them with righteous indignation about the problems they are causing YOU.
ME: “I don’t understand why you do it!” THEM: “I don’t know why I do it!”
Who’s right? Both! “I just don’t understand why” was often said from my mouth. Yet my actions for many years did not indicate any desire to try and learn about it. Moreover, I did not hear myself when I said the words: I don’t understand – I was preoccupied with WHY. Yet it armed me with ammunition: I don’t understand, therefore I will fight-fight-fight.
In recovery I have learned that understanding is mental action of study which is sometimes measured through aptitude tests and scoring. Acceptance is a spiritual action of study with notable behavioral changes in attitude: serenity, kindness, gratitude and love. The further along I get in my own recovery, the less important “why” becomes. Knowledge has provided me with information – it was the resistance to this information that kept me in denial. Denial is the antithesis of knowledge and acceptance. And the battle of the non-Al-Anon vs. Alcoholic/Addict continues on or maybe, this time, something changes…
One way I have learned to improve my relationships with my adult children whose issues with substance abuse bothered me is to remember to keep my big mouth shut…tight! My friend says “I have the right to remain silent; I just don’t have the ability to!” Finally, I’m given a reason for my behavior – I’m powerless over the desire to comment! A symptom of co-dependency, it perpetuates my unhappiness with the outcomes. Even though I’m aware of the negative consequences, I forget the tools that help me behave differently. Slowly, I remember those tools before my tongue takes over and my ability to communicate with maturity improves.
I use to override or completely miss the signs that the other person doesn’t want to engage or is put off by something I have said. I tend to do this uncensored with the ones closest to me. For example, I want to offer advice that wasn’t requested from me or offer a better solution to something they share. Their reaction is silence, withdrawn or irritated outburst. Outbursts are unpleasant, but silence seems worse! The sound of silence triggers my need to break it with a question. Questions can be aggressive. Usually, I ask prying questions under the guise of being loving or interested. A question can put people on the defensive and coupled with substance abuse, there is also an open invitation for lying. Questions can also be perceived as prying and nosey. That is not the kind of mother I want to be and if I had continued without change, I would have pushed others further away from me – the exact opposite of what I desire!
Understanding my role in the family disease has helped me appreciate the significance of the slogan W.A.I.T. This is an acronym I picked up in Al-Anon which stands for “why am I talking?” A good reminder to keep my urge to say something in check. Another problem with questions is I’m usually not prepared for the answer! I’ve grabbed onto the saying, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know!” Learning to listen and accept the situation, without comment, gets easier the more I practice. I have come to realize that silence is not unpleasant but rather a time I can compose myself to breathe, invite my Higher Power in, and be mindful of my own character defects.
To learn more about communicating successfully with your loved ones, explore Parent Pathway’s Meeting in a Box: Communication
One of our readers commented on a previous blog post that, “Staying out of the way is a tough one. Especially for someone like me. I have spent my life rushing to be a hero. Here I am to save the day. Finally, someone reminded me that what I save, when rushing to clear the debris of a using addict, is one thing: that they survive yet another day without responsibility; leaving them free to create more chaos. If I do this long enough, they might actually die.”
Being a Super Hero is exhausting. And saving someone who needs to save themselves is futile and even potentially deadly. How can we remove ourselves from the role of rescuer and enabler? Here are some ideas:
- Instead of jumping in to solve their problems, just say “Oh” or “Hmmmm” or “I’ll have to think about that” or “I know you can figure that out.” If you are accustomed to having the answers for your child, this new approach may make you anxious. How can they possibly figure it without SuperParent assistance? The truth is they will never figure it out if you always solve it for them. Handing them the power and responsibility of managing their own lives requires both parent and child to change. This is about you, Mom and Dad, as much as your child.
- If you leap into action to stop a barrage of threats or accusations (for example, “It’s your fault if I can’t get to work!”) then pull out the S**T shield. Imagine a magical force field that protects your from incoming threats, hatred and abuse. And tell your child, “I will not tolerate that kind of language,” and let them know they have to leave if they continue to speak that way. (Reminder! You have the right to a serene and calm home.)
- Let your child know that the rules of engagement have changed. When your child accuses you– “You USED to be nice and let me crash on the sofa”– tell him or her, “I’ve changed. That’s not OK with me anymore. If you are using drugs or alcohol, then you cannot sleep in my house.”
- Finally, use difficult confrontations as reminders to take care of yourself. When your child presses you for money, go treat yourself to a coffee or flowers or new paperback. When yoru son complains that you don’t care if his back aches (which is often a result of opioid abuse), then go get yourself a massage. When your daughter complains that she needs new clothes because left her old clothes at her last crash pad, go put on something warm and cozy.
Tough Love is tough—on them, and on us. Seize your superpower to take care of yourself and give your child a reason to change.
To restore healthy boundaries, check out our “Boundaries Meeting in a Box.”
When I first heard that alcoholism is a family disease, I balked at that notion. I did not consider how all my thoughts and energy fields were directed on them: to get them to stop, to get them to see the light, to rescue or make excuses for them. I did not see my behavior at all – after all,they were the ones with the problem, not me! I might admit my stress level increased, but I’d justify “you’d be worried too if your kid was struggling!”
After I joined the Al-Anon family groups and started working the steps, I began to see how my actions, my feelings, my health and well-being were directly proportional to the degree of involvement with trying to control the addict. As the disease progressed, my obsessions increased and I started showing physical symptoms from the stress.
I had the opportunity to understand this from another perspective from a sibling of someone struggling with substance abuse. She shared how awful it was to see her mother spend all her waking moments worried about her sister. It seemed all her mother did was focus on the sister; wonder and wish she’d get better, always talk about her, often sad about her, …and if her sister was doing well, her mom’s attitude was better. She was learning to please her mom by being the “good daughter.” She believed that she herself could somehow make mom happy. When that didn’t work, she lost all sense of self-worth. The frustration she felt with her mom often made her angry. She wanted to scream “what about me?!! I’m here and I’m doing all the right things”! Then the notion that she could somehow control her addict sister in attempt to “smooth things over” in the family soon became her new obsession.
Hearing her story put things in perspective. In many ways I related. I was able to look at how my behavior towards the “problem” might have affected other family members and friends who cared about me. Was I so preoccupied that I closed them out? I was seeing proof from others who shared their experience. There is a commonality of the symptoms. With proof I no longer had doubt about this being a family disease.
These words of wisdom are inspired by Christy Crandall, author of Lost and Found
If your daughter (or son) relapses and asks to come home, it might seems like you are helping her if you say “Yes.” But you may really be enabling her to continue a destructive lifestyle. If she is serious about working a program of recovery, then she will find a sober living center and abide by the rules of that sober community.
While I know this sounds harsh and it is hard to think of your daughter as being possibly homeless, she has to take responsibility for her choices to continue drinking and using drugs. She needs to be more committed to her recovery than you are.
Every county has an access number to get help to those who are suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness. Give this number to her, and tell her you will support her as long as she is actively involved in a program. What that support looks like should be up to you, not to her. If you make it contingent upon her seeking recovery (i.e., going to treatment, living in sober living, etc.) , then you are supporting her in a healthy way.
And consider going to an Al-Anon meeting, specifically one for parents who have kids struggling with chemical dependency. This will help you make good decisions for yourself and your daughter as you travel on this difficult journey. Most of all, do not despair. There are 23 million Americans in long-term recovery, and your daughter can be one of them.
This is a guest post from John Perry, co-founder of Clean & Sober Recovery Services in Orangevale, California.
What could 2017 look like without alcohol or other drugs? Let me count the ways…
No more harm to self or others. Fewer fights. No more trips to the pawn shop to retrieve family jewelry. Fewer trips to the ER. Fewer trips to jail, the courthouse or prison. Fewer car accidents, or accidents in general. No more covering up to Grandma, Grandpa and friends. Less self-hatred. Less sorrow and disappointment. Fewer broken marriages. Fewer lost jobs. Fewer disability claims. Less domestic violence. Less child abuse. Fewer secrets.
More confidence. More joy. Healthier, happier marriages and families. More honesty. More love. More success at work or school. Healthier bodies and better mental health. More energy. More introspection and insight. More patience. More happiness. More serenity. Improved finances. Wiser decisions at work and at home. More opportunities. Stronger marriages. Better parenting. More presence at holidays, birthdays, graduations. More showing up for life. More future to embrace.
Treatment works. Make 2017 your year, and claim the gifts of recovery.