I understand that addiction/alcoholism is a brain disease, but that doesn’t let my beloved addict off the hook or give him excuses like, “I can’t help it! I’ve got a disease.” And it doesn’t give me an out either. If I think, “He can’t help it! He’s got a disease,” then I am giving him a Get Out of Jail Free card. I am giving him a reason to keep abusing drugs or alcohol. I am enabling his self-destruction, pure and simple.
Yes, my child has a disease, one that he needs to manage as he would diabetes or cancer or heart disease. Here are the rules of the game for those with impaired hearts or bad pancreases or chemically-dependent brains: keep away from the things that are bad for you. Avoid sugar or fatty meat or – for the chemically dependent – any mood altering substance. Pot, crack, alcohol, pain pills; these are all the same to the diseased addict/alcoholic brain. Addicted to one means addicted to all.
As an aside: I know many parents think, “It’s just pot! How bad can that be?” I was one of those naïve parents. I didn’t know that pot had eight times the THC as in years gone by, or that it was causing psychosis among some users. I didn’t know there were more kids in rehab for pot than for all other drugs combined. And today’s national landscape makes the picture even murkier: if pot is so dangerous, why is it being legally sold around the country? That’s a mixed and confusing message for teens and adults alike.
My personal mantra for parental recovery is, “Give your beloved addicts a reason to change.” The flip side to that is, “Don’t give them an excuse to use.” Don’t let them play the disease card. Hold them accountable for the choices they make. We can’t stop them from putting their hand to their mouth or a needle in their arm. But we can stop making up excuses for them.
The advocacy organization Shatterproof reports that “If the ACA is repealed, Harvard-NYU researchers estimate that more than four million Americans will lose access to addiction and mental illness treatment.
And millions more would be at risk of missing out on future insurance coverage because addiction is considered a pre-existing condition.
We can’t let this happen. According to the CDC, we’re in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history, and drug overdose is now the #1 cause of accidental death in our country. Repealing the ACA without a replacement would make things worse for communities trying to fight back against the epidemic. It’s irresponsible and unacceptable to lose lives in the name of politics.”
Together, our voices carry weight. Tell your representative that repealing ObamaCare will make the opioid epidemic even moire deadly.
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.”
A robin has woven a mossy nest in the crape myrtle tree not far from my kitchen window. I first noticed her several weeks ago as she shredded a nearby nest left over by last year’s Thrasher clan. Mama Robin was intent on eliminating any possible competitors or predators from her turf.
Today, I realized the eggs had hatched when I spotted both male and female perching around the nest, worms dangling from their beaks. They took turns plunging their beaks into the nest, depositing food into the clamoring mouths.
Later, as I watered plants nearby, I watched Mama Robin watch me. Her eyes were alert, and her beak gaped open in a fierce manner, conveying in birdie-speak her willingness to go to battle for her babies. I bet she would have swooped down on me, had I come any closer.
I felt almost nostalgic as I noted her instinctive protectiveness as a mother. What wouldn’t a mother do to keep her children safe?
The ironic thing about addiction is that in our misguided, fear-driven efforts to keep our children safe, sometimes we actually contribute to their vulnerability. We cover and compensate for their bad choices, and they don’t learn to make good ones. We protect them from the dangers they have created in a way that exposes them to even more danger. We keep them safe in their cushy nest, and they don’t learn how to fly.
Emily Dickenson wrote, “Hope is a thing with feathers,” and I’d like to add my footnote: “Trust is letting those feathered wings take flight.”
We learn how to parent from the way we were parented, for better and for worse. If you grew up in a family where alcohol or other mood-altering substances played a starring role, you might have learned to keep the boat on an even keel by patching things up or smoothing things over. Or maybe you looked the other way or simply retreated from the family drama and trauma. Either way, those methods of coping can spill over from one generation to the next and influence the way we raise our own children.
How do you approach your child’s drinking and drugging? If you are a “fixer,” you probably shelter the rest of the family from the errant child. You carry the burden of his or her mistakes. You enlist the siblings to clean up the messes, or you might even displace the blame onto the “good” siblings. You keep your spouse in the dark about the missing money or jewelry. You devote all your time and energy to making things right.
As you soldier on, you are inadvertently keeping the chemically-dependent child from assuming responsibility for poor choices. As the Al-Anon “Open Letter from the Alcoholic” says, “Don’t let your love and anxiety for me lead you into doing what I ought to do for myself. If you assume my responsibilities, you make my failure to assume them permanent. My sense of guilt will be increased, and you will feel resentful.” You will also be completely exhausted because you are singlehandedly trying to fix the unfixable: only the addict/alcoholic can fix himself or herself.
Your job, then, is to fix yourself. To acknowledge that you cannot make your loved one better. To work on understanding what compels you to keep trying to fix your child. That quest will bring you wisdom and self-awareness that enriches your life in untold ways. Your job is to take care of yourself. To treat yourself—to a moment of quiet contemplation in a park, to a meal with your spouse uninterrupted by crisis phone calls, to an evening of laughter with friends. To treat yourself well and, at the same time, give your child a reason to change.
I’ve heard yet again that a friend’s child is in jail for burglary. She had been stealing from the neighbors to pay for her heroin. The story is so painfully familiar that it reminds me of the fill-in-the-blanks booklets called “Mad Libs” that my kids used to love when young.
Each Mad Lib involves a story that you customize to make “yours.” I’ve given you some options so you can create your own version of the young person’s substance abuse saga. Or feel free to improvise; God knows there is certainly enough raw material out there to claim. Here we go:
”My son/daughter is now in rehab/jail/prison/the hospital/the morgue for shoplifting/burglary/armed robbery/an overdose/drunk driving. This is the first/second/third/felony/overdose/car accident.
I can’t believe that this is happening to me/my family/our child. He/she was a great kid/much loved child/honest, joyous person/good student. I had no idea that marijuana was addictive/teens are shooting heroin//alcohol kills kids. How can this happen to us!? Drug addiction/alcoholism only happens to negligent parents/bad kids/sociopaths/anyone but my child.”
At the end of the day, millions of American families can tell the same sad story. It’s ironic how the stories sound pretty much the same, with only some minor variations. And it’s not funny at all that more Americans died last year from drugs or alcohol than from car accidents.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could close the book on those sad tales by helping our children understand what is at stake with that first drug or drink??
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 an “encore” post from Eliza
I’ve been reading a book called Sacred Moments, Daily Meditations on the Virtues. The back of the book describes it better than I can: “The virtues such as honesty, generosity, love, discernment and trust dwell inside all of us. They are our link with the Divine, the best parts of our character and the highest qualities of our humanity….The virtues help us to know who we are and what we can be.”
This book was given to me by a mom student in the anatomy class. She mentioned to her classmates that her young son had been killed several years ago by a drunk driver while riding his bike home from a Little League game.
This ethereal mom walked a walk of tremendous grace, compassion and humanity. There was not a bitter bone in her body over her son’s loss; instead, she continues to dedicate her energy to transforming sorrow into strength, pain into growth, and fear into trust. She teaches a Virtues class every six months to introduce the concepts to our community, but she lives and breathes the virtues with every step.
When I am tempted to throw a Pity Party for the missteps and damage done along the way, I will reflect on this brave mom, do my best to follow in her footsteps, and spin straw into gold.
So 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.
The Christmas post every year is dedicated to Tiffany Noel Chapman, a Christmas baby born in December, 1976. She became addicted to the pain pills that were prescribed when she broke her neck in a high school car accident. She died when she was 27, her liver destroyed by the pain pills that she had come to depend on.
Many people believe that people “choose” to become drug addicts or alcoholics when they party with drugs or alcohol, but addiction often develops under less voluntary circumstances. Tiffany’s genetic predisposition for addiction was triggered by the pain meds that she needed to take for intractable pain. Her story, while not uncommon, is an eye-opener to those who had no clue that even doctor-prescribed and doctor-monitored medications can become addictive.
Tiffany’s parents took her home from various ERs after repeated overdoses. Not once did they receive discharge instructions that shed any light on the brain disease they were fighting. Not once did they receive counsel about rehab or information about resources. They didn’t understand the phantom they were fighting in the dark, without tools or weapons. And they aren’t alone in their not-knowingness: teen addiction and alcoholism aren’t commonly discussed in today’s parenting books. In fact, most physicians have little or no training about addiction or alcoholism, especially as a teen issue, and little information to share with struggling parents.
Tiffany’s mother Linda opens her heart when she shares their story in the Collision Course-Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary, reminding all of us to be aware and vigilant because anyone—even the most golden child—can be vulnerable to this deadly disease.