Mother to Mother – How my Al-Anon program lends a helping hand

I panicked at first when a mom who knew about my circumstance reached out to me. Would I be able to help her? How could I smooth things over when I know outcomes may not be great? Was it even my business to try? I have grown a great deal in my 12 step recovery program of Al-Anon Family Groups but I’m not perfect. I re-wound my history playbook recalling my own experience of the “son-in-prison powerlessness”.  He had fainted in the shower room and cut his head. Word was he’d been transferred to a hospital. No one “inside” knew his status or even what happened. That helpless and hopeless feeling of not knowing!  I have uncontrollable mother bear instincts!  Unlike when he was 8 years old at the lake and had fainted on a rock outcropping…the children yelling for help, his dad and I frantically swimming to his rescue…in desperation, I could not help this time.  My fear! My panic! The “must do something” response and immediate reaction to save him! Back to present State Corrections Department and my powerlessness, I later found on the website an inmate/family liaison contact and I emailed them. Days later someone responded! I wanted to know if he was alright and my Higher Power answered me – “he’s OK!”

Having shared with this mom, days later she thanked me for listening.  Realizing there were some options in the prison industry that worked for me, she found someone to assist her situation.  I learned that not being able to do something right away has merit for my life lessons in recovery from the family disease. I have learned in Al-Anon the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and then Action. That “must do something” response is really unfiltered “reaction” and no longer serves me well. Today I have choices once I step back and get awareness of the situation. I had the same feelings to help this mom. I’m aware that my urge to immediately help is an unconscious response and I don’t need to act on it. I can accept that feelings are not facts. It is here that my action, if any, will be more appropriate and often results in positive outcomes.

Please share the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary to help stop teen addiction before it starts.

When the Unthinkable knocks on your front door

Unthinkable things sums up what happens to parents of drug addicts, at least in my world. Take for example, the phone call I got from a police officer of a special fugitive division. He was looking for my son and wanted my help. He knew my name; he knew all my family members’ names. We talked for 30 minutes about the perils my son faces – he’s concerned, he said. The last time he relapsed – pulled over for a traffic violation – he bolted. This “excites” police officers and the conversation turns to the dreaded, unthinkable – the likelihood that my son might do something that causes a police officer to fire his weapon. He might overdose, be killed by another junkie, and a host of other things. My mind already conjures up the worst case scenarios -these events are happening daily in my community. “You could rescue your son,” he threatens with fear. He suggested luring him in with the promise of money; they would wait around corners in undercover gear.

This put me in a strange, but familiar place. It reminded me of a time when I held onto the pseudo-belief that I have a lot of power and control over my son. With my own recovery from the family disease I know better. This is bigger than me and it’s not my business. Besides, there are always more outcomes than he presented – we don’t know. If I did these things, and my son was harmed as a result, would I be able to live with myself? If I didn’t do the sting operation and my son is killed on the street, would I be able to live with myself? Do I really have that much power?

I decided I would encourage my son to get help as I have always done, knowing this is his life and I’m not in control of it. That was if and when I would hear from him – he does not answer my calls either. Today I have a Power, greater than me that will guide me to a sane position. The perils of drug abuse, addiction and the disease related crimes by young people are unthinkable. And they progress. And their family, who love them beyond measure, can not save them with that love.

A Co-Dependent’s Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road of Addiction or Alcoholism

Watching the Wizard of Oz through eyes of a recovering co-dependent is an awakening. I understood the Scarecrow’s reaction upon hearing Glinda tell Dorothy she had the power all along to get home. He was pretty miffed she allowed them to experience all those horrible events knowing she could have helped her get home sooner. Co-Dependents don’t like seeing their loved ones suffer discomfort, danger and sadness. It makes us uneasy, fretful and worried. In my experience, I did not want my addicted/alcoholic loved ones to have to go through negative consequences from their risky behavior. I also relate to the Cowardly Lion, fearful of all things. It was my fear that drove me to become obsessed with them and in my mind the outcomes were always dark: danger, hunger, homelessness, attacks, crime. I never considered their sense of adventure, making new friends, surviving, sadness, and purpose to name a few. Any positive outcomes, such as independence, growth and self realization, were not a possibility – to my way of thinking. My thinking had become distorted – what happened to my brain?

I’m learning how fear and ignorance drives my behavior. I’m also learning to have courage and believe that whatever happens to my loved ones, good and bad, both have purpose in life and I don’t have power over that. It helps to remember my co-dependent tendencies when I want to rescue. I’d rather be a respectful mother, not a rescue mom. It feels better to let go of my fear and grant them the dignity to grow and live their own life. To do so, I have to accept that it may not be what I would choose, but accepting nonetheless.

I’m betting that after Dorothy returned to Kansas she was a different person – her experiences shaped new beliefs and attitude towards life. Because of my program, I am a different person too; I would say “a better person”. My recovery program has enabled me to have a relationship with my sons that would not have been possible if I continued to act irrationally, force solutions, become unreasonable all the while living in denial. Courage, Wisdom and Faith, it was there all along. There is no place like home.

This explains everything – making sense of the disease of addiction

Mental Illness and AddictionResearching or reading articles of research on addiction educates me more about why our loved ones continue to do what appears to us a self-defeating, immoral and illegal activity. To think they are choosing or willfully lying is a judgment quickly taken, but the truth is much more complex and physiological.

With stats such as “only 10% of addicts seek help on their own” , that is, even recognize they have a problem, explains a lot. In one such article written for CNN, Dr. Seppala, chief medical officer of Hazelden, states “Our largest public health problem goes unrecognized by those with the disease.”  In my opinion, the same holds true for the family members. We don’t seek help readily; we don’t see that we may be part of the problem. Take, for example, a good co-depended parent model: self-authorized to sacrifice their own well-being, at all costs, with a fear based obsession not unlike the addict searching for the next fix. Using ineffective control measures, we have firsthand experience being among the 90%!

I easily equate the addict profile as it applies to me, a concerned parent fraught with hopeless attempts to assist. It explains the anguish, heartache and self-defeating measures those of us in this family disease do.  It explains everything.  Why we continue to ”mother” our 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and older-year olds…as if they are still in toddlers! We ineffectively combat a disease of lies; and the alternative is at first, unfathomable, incomprehensible and counterintuitive.

The other measures that may ultimately “help” result from our own decision to seek help or maybe we were coerced.  However we get there, we are given tools to overcome our own connectedness to the addict and in so doing, contribute to changing that dismal 10%percent that seek recovery. When you know better, you do better.


Whoever said love was easy?

301883_8582 mother daughter walking on beachEarly in my grieving process, when I realized my love could not save the ones I love, a stranger handed out a reading at one of the support groups I was in. The printing does not reference an author. It touched me greatly and I kept a copy. Reading it made sense, but I just wasn’t sure I could do it – it seemed counter intuitive to my mother instincts. Here it is reprinted:

To protect our own integrity and peace of mind, we may have to redefine the word love. Sometimes no is the kindest word we can say to a family member or close friend who’s in serious trouble with alcohol, drugs, or any other ravaging obsession. Their suffering pushes all our “rescue” buttons. What we feel like doing is straightening out their messes and protecting them from farther harm. If we could, we would banish all their miseries with the touch of a magic wand! But we can’t. Often the only thing we can do to help our self-destructive loved ones is to sop helping completely. As hard as it is, and as unnatural as it feels, we may have to make some or all of the following declarations of love if we want to shorten our loved one’s path to the recovery turnoff.

  1. I love you, so I won’t buy your groceries or pay your rent.
  2. I love you, so I won’t loan you money or the uses of my credit.
  3. I love you, so I won’t call in sick for you at work.
  4. I love you, so I won’t cover your bounced check.
  5. I love you, so I won’t let you move in with me.
  6. I love you, so I won’t listen to your excuses or accept your lies.
  7. I love you, so I won’t make your bail.

If we know down deep that these words need to be spoken we need to practice them until we can get them out. Many recovering people only got turned around because someone loved them enough to give them a cold shoulder instead of a helping hand.

Don’t just do something, sit there!

meditationI made a call to a long time member of the Al-Anon Family Group.  He doesn’t know me but I have heard him speak at meetings; his story of hope with his son who is well over 40 years now continues to be a source of great comfort.  My intent was for insight – I was anxious about another parent suffering through some tuff days.  What, exactly, did I think this anonymous person would do for my friend I hadn’t considered when I made the call.

In my effort to seek help for another, I ended up getting help for myself!

This awesome conversation cannot be duplicated here.  But there were key points for me.  Like when he said “…this program teaches us rigorous honesty and we must ask ourselves what part we had in the crises we experience today.  It is here true recovery begins.  Our Higher Power shows us that we have the right to plan ahead; we just don’t have the right to plan an outcome.”

At some point I realized my own co-dependency was rearing its ugly head.  I wanted to fix someone else’s
problem.  Why?  Because their suffering was uncomfortable for me and my reflex was an uncontrollable urge to do something…more.  Like more is better or doing something is better than nothing! “Remember”, he said, “we learn in this program that unconditional love means you give it away but you don’t expect anything in return.”

This outreach helped me accept discomfort.  And knowing when to do nothing is a wisdom
learned in recovery.  It is often discomfort that reveals another opportunity to learn and grow.  Like the addict, maybe we too have to feel the heat before we see the light!

A hike through the looking glass – watching out for clues

parallel path of recovery from addiction and co-dependencyMy kids suffering always pushed my rescue buttons. And with the progressive nature of the Family Disease, my mommy cape 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 hike through the looking glass. Yet oddly enough, nonsense became logic when looked at differently. I took a new 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 the national park called RecoveryLand; sometimes the trail markers are confusing or missing completely. I would have to believe I’m on the right course; use my directional tools and another person to strategize. “No” would become a complete sentence and the kindest word I would say. As hard as it is, as unnatural as it feels, if I wanted to shorten the path to a recovery turnoff, my trail markers would have to change. “I love you so I won’t…” was the treacherous climb out of the canyon. In small increments I could see sane things reappear in my life. The trail head was always there.

Life lessons from dogs for co-dependent parents of addicts and alcoholics

codependent dogWhile waiting at the vet one day, I picked up an enlightening book called What Dogs Teach Us:  Life’s Lessons Learned from Our Best Friends by Glen Dromgoole.  I skimmed through the book and found that many of these life lessons apply to man and beast alike.  Consider:

  • “Appreciate the preciousness of life.”  Addiction gives us an ongoing opportunity to practice this concept, trying to find the rainbow in the storm clouds.  As they say, practice makes perfect.  Keep looking for that rainbow.  It’s there, although it may be hidden in the storm.
  • “Good behavior should be reinforced with complements or rewards.” My natural instinct as a co-dependent worrier is to get stressed and cranky.  Thanks to addiction, I’ve come to learn the futility of worry.  When worry bubbles up in my mind, I now try to wrestle it to the ground. Why should I let worry call the shots in my life?   I can be happier when I focus on the positive, and the people around me are happier because I am less preoccupied, maybe even more pleasant.. Win/win.
  • “Sassing back can make things worse.”  That goes both ways—you sass me/ I sass you, and we both lose.  The Al-Anon equivalent of this statement is “Spit out the hook” or “You don’t have to attend every fight you are invited to.”
  • “Run to the rescue of people in trouble.”  Uh oh. Maybe this natural instinct of mine wouldn’t be so problematic if I were Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, but rescuing people is bad for me and bad for them. This adage is healthy only if you are a dog or a paramedic.
  • “Co-dependency is OK as long as one of you has four legs.”  Amen to that!
  • And finally…“Take time to enjoy the smells and sounds and sights around us.” Life is short. If we mire ourselves in fruitless preoccupations about our loved one’s addictions, then our very own lives go passing by while we are looking the other way.


Remembering that addiction is a disease, not a person

mirror on the wallZig Ziglar said, “Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” I would add to that, “Remember that addiction is a disease, not a person.”  And that’s hard to do. Like a fun house mirror, our children’s chemical dependency tends to distort how they look and how we see them. We do everyone a disservice with the label of addict or alcoholic: we see only the illusion and distortion of their disease.

  • They may be struggling to put one foot in front of the other, and we see a person who lacks discipline.
  • They may be humiliated by a relapse, but all we see are the red waves of our own anger or the darkness of our own fear.
  • Their lips may be moving about recovery and we see a person who we want to be in recovery.

So how do we know if their recovery is real or a charade?  Their behavior speaks volumes. Are they truly living a life of recovery and “living amends,” or are is it all lip service?  And our behavior speaks volumes.  Are our views of our children colored by our own fervent wishes for their recovery? Do we try to make them sober by fixing their mistakes, propping them up, defending them?  If we look at them and instead see ourselves –fixing, propping, and defending – then we are getting in the way of their recovery. We are denying them the opportunities they need to learn and grow from their mistakes.  We are making it possible for them to remain in their disease of addiction and alcoholism. We are enabling them.

When we detach with love from our children and view their chemical dependency as an event and not a life sentence, we have a different perspective. We gauge their recovery by their actions – today.  We stop acting as if we can make them sober because – news flash – we can’t make them sober.  When we get out of their way and let them manage their lives, mistakes and all, they have a chance to live as healthy people and not as a disease.

Mothering Rhymes With Smothering

I’m one of those people who struggle with remembering names.  I learned in a sales class that using an association with the name helps in recall.  For example, I’m introduced to Betty.  She has dark, jet black/blue hair.  I think of Archie Comic Books, Veronica & Betty.  Betty has Veronica’s hair!  This amount of time devoted to remembering Betty has only been a few seconds but is somehow lodged in my brain to not forget Jet Black/Blue Hair Betty. 

Association comes in handy on other areas of my life, especially when my fears and concerns about my adult children take over my thoughts.  These thoughts tend to be negative and are always masked under the cloak of good mothering.  I will forget all that I’ve learned about my stinking thinking.  I find myself worrying and wondering if he is cold, alone, hungry, hurt and a host of other terrible things.  And to add injury, I’ll invite responses to vindicate my negative concerns.  I may resort to rescuing and have completely relapsed into codependency.  Such behavior is odd when seen from the outside, but for those of us who have a child struggle in addiction or alcoholism; this is how we roll.  And it is here I’m triggered to ask myself if I’m doing anyone any good, especially for myself.  I’m acting out of self preservation from fear, not the supportive and accepting, loving mother I strive to be.  What am I forgetting?

 Mothering rhymes with smothering.  

My fears and worries turn mothering into smothering.   I don’t want to suffocate anyone.  I’m not proud to add guilt to someone’s low self esteem and today I have tools to help me navigate out of my own stinking thinking.