Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…Worry doesn’t help after all!

mirror on the wallIt seems that no matter how much time I spend on relieving myself from the chains of co-dependency, I still struggle with worry. Ok, I suppose that means I’m human, that’s good to know! And maybe, just maybe, the biggest gift of all of this self-discovery is the raw awareness of each and every thought and action that I do. Sometimes ‘denial’ does seem like a viable option, yet I know that my life is much better when I live with eyes wide open dealing with the dilemma of the day. Today’s dilemma is that I recognize that I am beginning to worry about future events, also known as ‘future tripping’. For such a fun sounding phrase, it sure does lead to angst.
When my daughter decided to move back to town it was a joyful situation for so many reasons. She was close to 2 years clean and sober, hard-working, and being a responsible young woman. I could go on and on about the positives. Yet in the back of my mind I struggled with all the what ‘ifs’ that could take place. I am a strong believer of ‘what you think about comes about’. So I consciously had to not let my mind wonder and obsess on all the future possibilities. I have developed techniques to ward off those obtrusive thoughts by engaging new thoughts like a song that I find inspirational or quote or prayer. I also discuss my worries and fears with my daughter. I also think about boundaries that need to be respected and discuss them with her so that we are on the same. I also try to remember that things change and I need to look forward. So many blessings and joys have transpired, and I choose to celebrate those along the journey.

The Power of Being Productive – Growing into a responsible adult while in recovery

Many times I think about what has been instrumental to my daughter’s recovery. When have I seen the most growth? There are many dynamics that contribute, that is a given. Early in her struggle to overcome her addiction it was a moment by moment, day by day battle to piece together sobriety. But now that she has many months she is not in the crisis mode – she is ‘doing life’ as they say. She is working and taking responsibility for herself. This did not come easily as there was a lot of wreckage that was created during her active using. My expectations during the early days of recovery were basic; stay clean, move forward. But as time went on, I knew that part of her recovery would entail getting a job and learning life skills and responsibilities as she was a young adult.
I have to say that getting a job propelled her forward in a positive direction. She had to get up and show up. She had to work hard and follow directions. I watched her go from an attitude of ‘it’s all about me and what others do for me’ to ‘I worked hard for that paycheck!’ She began to understand the value of money and how much it cost to live on her own. Things did not just appear when she needed them, she had to work for it. It was a real sign of growth when we were shopping one day and I was about to buy something at the grocery store and she said, ‘that’s way too expensive! You can get that somewhere else for a lot less.’ This was never a consideration when she didn’t have to buy things on her own. Now she was able to understand the cost and making trade-offs. I watched her self-esteem rise over time. It is one of the most fundamental jobs we have as parents, to help our children grow into responsible adults. When they take a detour into addiction, it becomes an even more difficult task, but there is hope for recovery.

Time to Claim Victory over addiction? I think Not!

It is such an interesting time when certain recovery milestones begin to occur. In the early days of my daughters recovery I would put on such a celebration at the 30 day chip, the 60 day chip, the 90 day chip, then the 30 day chip, the 60 day chip, the 30 day chip, the…you get the picture. I would put such fanfare on these early recovery milestones because I wanted all the hope that came with it.  You would have thought I was the one getting the chip! It’s easy to look back on this and while I think it’s great to celebrate the milestones of recovery, we also need to keep it in perspective. Nevertheless, my daughter is a few months away from 6 years clean and sober – and honestly, I’m not sure I would be any less proud if she’d just gotten her college diploma! It’s been a long journey and it did not come easily.
So is it time to claim victory over addiction? I hardly think so, but it is time to celebrate and sit back and relish the healing and recovery. She has become responsible, performing well in her job, going to college, paying her bills, making good choices. These are all wonderful things to celebrate. Yet I know how illusive addiction can be – it’s like cancer, it’s in remission, healing has taken place and a clean bill of health is declared. Yet, it can reoccur when unmanaged and turn life upside down in a moment. I do not dwell on this possibility, for today I will rejoice in my daughter’s recovery and the healing that has taken place in our family.

Parent isolation and teen substance abuse

1427313_66874007 red headed finch birdI am captivated by Anne Lamott’s book, Imperfect Birds. Certainly, Anne was channeling me as she wrote this novel about a daughter’s secretive addiction.

Her book, although fiction, is uncannily familiar as she describes the seeming innocence of her daughter and friends, who were blatantly using drugs right in front of oblivious parents like me. Instead of “lame,” I prefer to look back at myself as trusting, hopeful, and a firm believer in the innocence and purity of childhood.  Drug addiction did not fit into that idyllic picture.

Anne Lamott and I are now kindred spirits, bonded by the experience of addicted children, real or fictional.  I am buoyed by this sisterhood of understanding and compassion.  It’s the same sisterhood that blossomed at a parents’ Al-Anon meeting where I discovered that many of us were struggling through the dark and uncertain woods. After weeping  uncontrollably in a room filled with total strangers, I was brought into the fold. We shared the common threads of grief and despair and even hope, although I couldn’t see that at the time.  But I knew I was no longer alone, and that made all the difference.

I’m not far into the book, so I don’t know how the story ends.  Guess what?  We never know how the story ends until we get there.  Until then, we need to forge ahead through the uncertainty, reach out to others who are stumbling alongside us, and head towards the light of day—one step at a time.

Disabling Denial: Reclaiming Life from (and for) an Addicted Child

Perhaps you’ve suspected for some time that something is amiss, but learning the hard truth about a child’s addiction or alcoholism is an absolute sucker punch to the gut.  Maybe that’s why it is so hard to accept that truth.

There are many obstacles to grasping a child’s chemical dependency, with denial in the forefront.  Dictionary.com defines denial as “An assertion that something said, believed, alleged, etc. is false.”  Quite fittingly, the example given is “Despite his denials, we knew he had taken the purse.”   Swap in any number of nouns for purse—pills, money, jewelry—and now you’ve got a story that sounds may sound familiar.

Acknowledging that something was really wrong with my child was too horrific, so I looked the other way, made excuses or simply refused to accept the possibility. Part of me couldn’t understand how my child could be addicted, especially since I had worked hard to be an involved parent, loved each other, had family dinners almost every night, and was very present in my son’s life.  (Maybe too present, come to think).

Once I “got it,” I still couldn’t believe it.  This was my faulty logic: “Drug addicts come from bad families.  We are a good family.  Therefore, my son can’t be an addict.” Toss that logic with a hefty dose of shame and stigma, and you’ve got the perfect storm of denial. But my utter lack of knowledge and information about chemical dependency kept me from understanding that no one is exempt from this common disease that impacts one out of three American  families.

Although I understand that my denial protected me from a horrific realization, I wish that I had been able to break through it much earlier in the game.  Then we would have faced the monster when it was weaker and less entwined in our lives.  If you need help understanding and overriding the coping mechanism that can perpetuate your pain, please check out our Denial Meeting in a Box for some powerful tools.

Clearing Out the Clutter and Co-Dependency

Last weekend I did a much overdue task which was cleaning out the clutter that had collected in a couple areas of my house. I realized how therapeutic this activity was for me. I initially created more mess as I pulled things off the shelf and went through the pains taking sorting process: Attic? Donation? Keep Handy? Throw away? As I sifted through books, hats, papers, just to name a few, I started feeling a sense of unburdening. While I do not like to have a messy house, I do have small messy areas! The area I was working on was in the garage where I have shelves and cabinets for various projects and activities stored. I have a tendency to do a big clean-up project and then slowly it gets cluttered as I zoom around in my busy life not paying attention to the little things that add up to bigger messes later on. When I was done and all was neat and tidy I realized how this relates to life in general.

When I am organized and on top of the many responsibilities that I have, I feel peaceful and stress free. And when I am on top of setting boundaries and taking care of myself then I can better care for those I love. In my co-dependency, I can let things get out of hand quite rapidly. Which in turn creates messes that I need to later clean up! These messes are usually around letting a bad habit creep in – like jumping in and paying a bill for my child when they are responsible. I may think, ‘oh, it’s just a small amount and she can really use the help….’ or ‘I’ll help by creating a resume since I’ve done so many…’ Yet, doing these small things can add up to a big message ‘you are not capable, I am’ and ‘why take responsibility when Mom will bail me out.’ I’ve worked hard to undo these types of bad habits and create healthy ones. Just like cleaning out the clutter around my house, I will continue to clean out the clutter of my co-dependency!

Ask the Expert: Acknowledging our powerlessness, we seek words of encouragement

Relapse and Rebound, RepurposeQUESTION: My son started drinking @ age 13. He is now 43 yrs old and has not found sobriety. He has been in & out of rehabs & hospitals for the past 30 yrs. He is dually diagnosed & fails to be compliant with his treatments. He is a chronic relapser. He has a history of harassing, threatening, intimidating, verbally abusing people & destroying other peoples personal or real estate properties.

It has been very difficult to watch his self-destruction. Over the years there is nothing that we haven’t tried to help him get better. We have had to accept our family’s powerlessness over this disease. We had to pursue our own recoveries in order to find some peace & serenity. We needed to let go of him to be happy again.

Many times we thought that he had hit his bottom, but the insidious disease keeps winning & taking him over, again & again.  As much as any parent doesn’t want a child to go to jail, I am hoping that he will be sentenced & kept there. I am hopeful that maybe this is his bottom and he might realize how alcohol has destroyed his life & driven people that love him away. I see this as the last resort for his healing, since nothing else has worked. If jailed for 6 months or more, will he be evaluated & offered rehabilitation? I try to keep up my hope, but if he doesn’t learn from this drastic lesson, what can we expect the next time? This is all very heartbreaking. All I can do is pray. Any words of encouragement, I would appreciate. Who is this stranger, my son?? I read this helpful website every day. I am grateful for it:) Thanks for being there!

prison for addicts Brad DeHavenEXPERT ANSWER: When you get on a plane, the instructions are to put the oxygen mask on yourself before your children. YOU need to survive and at some point if you assess that everything you are doing is too much and not enough at the same time, then you are enabling the continuance of the same behavior.

Your son’s bottom is different than yours. If everything else that you have tried has yielded this result, then perhaps prison will bring his bottom to him. All you can do is love him and pray because at some point he has to understand how destructive his behavior is to not only himself but those who love and care for him. Addiction travels many difficult paths and you are certainly living one.

Best to you and yours!

Bradley DeHaven

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT ANSWER: You hit this on the mark!! Your child is a stranger. This is a brain disease, and eventually our loved ones are no longer available to us. Their entire lives become addiction.

So many of us have loved ones missing to addiction. I am sorry that there is no magic wand; change must come from him.

You are doing well if you have made your boundaries strong and rigid. You will find kinship and wisdom at meetings like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. please go to a minimum of six meetings, and try different ones until you have found the right one. Celebrate Recovery support meetings are also available to you at most major churches.

I would also encourage working with an addiction therapist who can help you move forward with the pain you are carrying.

It sounds like your son has lost his belief in himself for the time. If you talk to him, let him know you love him and believe in him, but hate this disease and what it has done to him. It is possible to love your child while hating his addiction.

Ricki Townsend, Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1

Ask the Expert: Can my household ever be safe and happy when my son is so deeply lost in his addiction?

War zone of addictionYOUR QUESTION: My son that just turned 18 has been in and out of trouble with marijuana. Over the last 2 years it has gotten worse and more things have happened. He is the oldest of my 4 children. My 18 year old can hang out with us have a great time and then the next day or night be a totally different person. Little things have started missing around the house. It would be a couple of dollars here and there or a few video games. Lately he would have mood swings and say he just wasn’t sleeping well. I found out he had been taking Kpin along with drinking or had taken some of his grandparents pain pills or sleeping pills. We had started locking our bedroom door each day with a lock that needed a key to open it. I worried what medicines he might try to get. He always acts like we are crazy to ever think he would do something like that.

This Monday his mood swings had gotten worse and he blew up over something small and was extremely disrespectful to his father and myself. He had gotten so mean to his brothers lately that I worried about him being home alone with them. He doesn’t have a job and isn’t in a hurry to get one. This last blow up he had was so bad that we kicked him out of the house. We don’t know what to do.  If we let him go see friends we knew he would come home messed up. He would tell us it was just pot or that he had taken Adderall with pot. I don’t know what to do. It is hard because having other kids and not sure what to say or do about the entire situation in front of them. We have tried to not mention a lot around them but the older two have noticed so much on their own over the last year. Are we doing the right thing by kicking him out and not allowing him home unless he gets help and gets a job? I just worry about him coming to our house and doing something when we aren’t home or in front of the other kids.

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: Thank you for your questions, which I will try to address. Please feel free to call or email me if I have missed anything.You mentioned that your son is being inappropriate at home, stealing, and acting inappropriately to his family. Lying, stealing and manipulating are very much symptoms of drug abuse, and opiate abuse in particular. It is critical to recognize that addiction to drugs has been proven to be a brain disease that requires significant help to turn the tide.

The disease of addiction affects all members in the family. We as the family unit are no longer “normal.” Instead, stress becomes the norm. And as much as you think you are protecting the other children in the family, even your four-year old notices something different. The children FEEL “something different.”  While you love your son, until he chooses sobriety, you must protect the rest of your family. Build a life with them full of laughter and activity.  They deserve all of you. Yes, this is hard when one of your children is struggling.

I recommend that you find a good Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting to attend with your husband. The parent meetings would be the best for your situation. Also, if by some chance you live in the Sacramento area, I also encourage you to call Full Circle Treatment Center. The can talk to you about parenting classes and how to handle difficult situations when they arise.

Would you allow a stranger who makes you feel unsafe in your home? You need to have the same boundaries with your son:  he cannot be in your home if intuitively you feel uncomfortable. Do you drug test him? You can have kits mailed to you, and you might want to drug test every time he comes into your home, even for a visit. If he just can’t seem to go, that is considered a positive test, and he loses the privilege of being in your home.  You can purchase inexpensive drug tests at Recovery Happens.

My suggestions go against the grain of normal parenting where we trust our children.  Yet a child who is abusing drugs or alcohol is not trustworthy, and the rules of normal parenting do not apply.  In this strange new world, I hope you will seek out professional support for you and your son  Please ask yourself if you would be trying to handle this on your own if he had cancer or diabetes.

My hope is that you and all similar families realize you do not have the education or resources to manage this serious disease and all of the behavioral challenges it creates. No amount of love will heal this.  No amount of protection will heal this. You cannot do this on your own. I wish you the best.

EXPERT KENT MORRISON: There are several things that need to be mentioned.  First, from what you have mentioned it highlights that your son has progressed beyond just smoking pot.  The mood swings, not sleeping well, etc are signs of pill use.  Kpin (Klonopin) is a heavy benzo (benzodiazepine), and mixing it with drinking can be very harmful if not deadly.  He has also resorted to stealing as a means to continue using drugs, again a sign of pill use.  Pills can be very expense and very addicting.  I think there are two recommendations that are in order.  First, I would strongly advise you as parents to seek professional help from a place like New Directions to talk more about exactly what you are experiencing with your son and what your options are.  Second, I believe that your son needs professional help and asking him to leave the house can help only if he becomes desperate enough to want help.  But it is a hard line to hold and if you break down and let him back in without getting him help, it is likely he will continue to violate your family boundaries and his drug use will not get better.  So in summary, I think seeking professional help as parents is your first step and then implementing a plan to address your son is step two.  Last, I would also think about having your other children talk with the counselor/therapist you decide to make sure they a have a chance to process what they are experiencing as well.

 

What do the 12-steps mean to addicts and their loved ones?

Letting GoGuest blogger David Greenspan is a writer and media specialist for Lighthouse Recovery Institute . He’s been sober since 2008 and finds no greater joy than in helping still struggling alcoholics.

The twelve-steps are an often misunderstood part of recovery from substance abuse. AA and NA in general seem to be portrayed differently every time they appear in the media and that’s just the meeting aspect. Never mind the meat and potatoes of step work and spiritual growth.With that in mind, I’d like to clear up some misconceptions about what the twelve-steps are, how they operate, and what to expect if you have a loved one who’s embarking on an “anonymous” journey.

Before we go on, though, it’s important to note that part of twelve-step fellowships is the practice of anonymity. I’m sharing my experience out of a desire to help and shed light on the often mysterious nature of these fellowships. That being said, I don’t identify as a member of any twelve-step group publically and never will. Rather, I’m simply a man who’s found a spiritual solution to the disease of addiction.

The 12-Steps & Addicts

What do the twelve-steps mean to addicts? That answer is both simple and incredibly complicated. At their most basic, the twelve-steps offer a way for addicts and alcoholics to stop abusing substance and begin to live “normal” lives. It’s important here to make the distinction between an addict/alcoholic and a heavy drinker/drugger. An addict is someone who suffers from the disease of addiction and an alcoholic is someone who suffers from the disease of alcoholism. These are three-part diseases – they affect their suffers on mental, physical, and spiritual levels.

There’s the mental obsession. This is a thought that becomes, as the name suggests, an overwhelming obsession. It crowds out all else in the addict’s mind until they succumb to it and pick up a drug.

At this point, the physical allergy kicks in. This is perhaps the least understood facet of the disease model of addiction. This allergy, also known in recovery as the physical craving, has something to do with how addicts’ bodies process drugs and alcohol. Instead of processing it normally, our bodies react differently.  The how and why aren’t important to me. What’s important are the results. Once taking a drug or drink, I am physically unable to stop. Once I start, I won’t stop until something blocks me from my “medicine.” This could be an arrest, a trip to rehab, or simply being broke and unable to obtain any drugs.

Finally, there’s the spiritual malady. This is comprised of all the crap that makes drugs and alcohol attractive in the first place. Things like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, worry, ego, anger, self-pity, and various other “character defects” (as they’re called in twelve-step fellowships).

So, someone who suffers from the disease of addiction isn’t merely a heavy partier or out of control. They’re suffering from a deadly combination of physical, mental, and spiritual symptoms. The result is around the clock drug or alcohol abuse and all the heartbreak that comes with it.

What do the twelve-steps mean? They mean freedom from this cocktail of suffering. They mean freedom from the tyranny of drugs and booze. They mean the ability to be a free man.

This is accomplished through doing the steps in order and with a sponsor who has a sponsor. It requires admitting we’re powerless over chemicals and that our lives, with our without drugs, are unmanageable. It means saying that maybe something greater than ourselves can help us. It means taking a look at our resentments, fears, sexual conduct, and people we’ve harmed.

It means sharing all the above with another human being. It means recognizing and coming to terms with our character defects. It means making amends to those people we’ve hurt (and making amends isn’t merely a mumbled apology – it’s correcting a past wrong through changed actions).

It means taking inventory of ourselves on a continual basis. It means correcting the new mistakes that are sure to pop up. It means praying, meditating, and seeking a greater and more personal spiritual connection. It means helping other addicts and alcoholics.

Most importantly, it means replacing old ideas, behaviors, and principles with new ones. It means changing everything about ourselves in order to live a life of serenity and (mostly) happiness.

Sounds hard, right? It is, but it’s 100 times better than the alternative – drinking and drugging ourselves to death and hurting everyone we come into contact with.

The 12-Steps & the Family

I don’t have as much experience on what the twelve-steps mean to the family of addicts and alcoholics. In fact, I have no experience with that part of recovery. I’ve had family members abuse drugs and alcohol, but never close enough family to warrant going to Al-Anon or another “family fellowship” and seeking their help. Call me hardheaded, but I simply haven’t found it necessary.

You know what? I pray that I never find it necessary. My heart goes out to the parents, siblings, significant others, and loved ones of addicts. I can’t imagine what we put you through. Probably the best way I can attempt to explain, and this is just that – an attempt, what the twelve-steps mean to the family is through relating an experience I had with my own mom.

After being sober for a few years, I’d regained the trust of my family. Although I lived many states away, we’d talk regularly and I was invited to all major family functions. This restored trust and communication was sacred to me. It was something I never thought would return.

Still, not everything was rosy. I noticed that whenever I was home, my mom would keep her purse close to her. When she went upstairs to go to sleep, she’d take it with her. Old habits die hard, I suppose. So, on a particular visit, I was taken aback when I wandered into the living room at night and saw her purse sitting on the floor by the table. This was the spot she kept it in when I was growing up. This was the spot I hadn’t seen it in in years.

I almost broke down and cried right there. It was a watershed moment for me. I finally knew my parents had forgiven me completely. I finally knew I was their son again. I’ve had some amazing experiences in sobriety. I’ve graduated college with honors. I’ve received awards. I’ve gotten (and kept!) good jobs. Still, none of them compare to seeing my mom’s purse that night.

What do the twelve-steps do for the family? They give them their children back. It’s as simple as that.

 

 

 

 

The Accidental Addict/The Accidental Enabler

Photo of a woman.Real Simple magazine featured an article, “The Accidental Addict,” about a young woman who inadvertently became addicted to prescription medications.  Aren’t all addicts accidental?  Who would intentionally choose the life of destruction called addiction or alcoholism?  No addicted child that I know said, “Gee, I want to open a Pandora’s box of destruction and quite possibly put my life on the line.”  Instead, I imagine he or she thought, “ I’d like to  fit in/ hang loose/ have fun/ not be the oddball/be popular/feel comfortable in my own skin” or something of that nature.

By the same token, enablers come by their craft quite honestly.  Love First, A Family’s Guide to Intervention highlights the genesis of two distinct types of enablers.  One type is the  “innocent enabler” who can’t even imagine that drugs or alcohol underpin a loved one’s inexplicable behavior.  The other variety is the desperate enabler who cannot bear the thought of the decimation of substance abuse.  My own enabling started innocently and then became desperate as I worked tirelessly to prevent the family boat from capsizing while keeping my child out of harm’s way.  That balancing act made me crazy, made me sick and didn’t solve the problem.  In fact, it made it worse.

The distance I’ve put between me and my child helps me take a clear look and how we got to where we are.  That’s been a very good thing: understanding the accidental origins of addiction and  co-dependency  helps me find forgiveness for myself and for the beloved addicts in my life.