For many of us, co-dependency developed quite naturally and innocently. We were the moms who took care of others when they couldn’t care for themselves. We unselfishly did the work that others didn’t want do, picked up the pieces that others dropped. We are the fixers, the rocks, and when we are sometimes blamed for having generous souls, as if that caused our kid’s addiction– it really hurts. It makes me feel extremely misunderstood. Since when is it a liability to be helpful and supportive?
But I know now about that fine line between support and unhealthy enabling. As I’ve learned, the assistance that I freely heaped upon my son, often unbidden, started to cripple him. I crossed that fine line when I started to do for him the things he could do for himself. Or maybe he couldn’t do them, or couldn’t do them well enough, but I got in the way and pre-empted his growth.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we moms of kids who struggle with drugs often faced other issues that we tried to smooth over for them. Our kids had learning disabilities and floundered in the classroom, and we were their advocates. They had serious medical vulnerabilities, and we ran interference to make sure they were safe and had the medical accommodations they needed. Often, they suffered from depression, and we were there to blunt some of the blows that could pull them further down. These acts of kindness can often spiral into an unhealthy co-dependence, and that’s where healthy support turns into unhealthy enabling. Like the caterpillar that needs to wrestle its way out of the cocoon in order to survive, our kids need to develop their own muscles if they are to thrive. We can’t build those muscles for them.
Our children’s substance abuse creates such isolation for beloved addicts and parents alike. It feels like others cannot possibly relate to our struggles as parents of addicts unless they, too, have been hunkered down in the trenches of fear, anger and shame. But I have great hope that as we spread the word about addiction as a brain disease, then the shame of being the parent of a drug addict will begin to dissipate and we can come together openly and constructively to prevent addiction through awareness and education.
So here, for the record, is the official definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine: The ASDM defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
Physician Michael Wilkes aptly illustrates that point in the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary when he says, “I don’t think it’s any more under someone’s control than skin cancer or breast cancer or an infectious disease. Sure, there’s some role you had initially but once you begin to get the actual manifestations of the disease, you can’t stop it without a significant amount of help.” (You can watch Collision Course here…and then ask your local Public TV station to run it in your area.)
We’ve all experienced the part about the sheer amount of work and terror in trying to derail active addiction. Through education and awareness, we can stop addiction before it even starts. And never forget—there is no shame in having a child with a disease, whether its asthma, diabetes or addiction.
Shatterproof.org is a national organization committed to protecting our children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs and ending the stigma and suffering of those affected by this disease. And Shatterproof’s taking their show on the road, working with hotels nationwide who have come together to join Shatterproof’s breakthrough Hotel Guest Program to show commitment as a corporate citizen in their community and to help protect the environment.
This simple program produces cost savings turned into donations to support Shatterproof in its efforts to end alcohol and drug addiction and benefit the environment …at no cost to its hotel guests.
The way the program works is based on these simple principles:
Each hotel guest is offered the opportunity to “decline” housekeeping services during their stay-over nights (additional days stayed between day of arrival and day of departure).
The time and associated costs (supplies, energy, etc.) required to clean a typical guest room during stay-over, is saved by the participating hotel.
This savings is donated in cash to Shatterproof.
This guest gesture of deferring service supports Shatterproof’s mission and saves the environment, , all without any out-of-pocket costs to the guest, or hotel. For those who choose to participate, it is a win/win for all involved.
“This program not only saves save water, electricity and usage of chemicals, a plus for the environment, but also is supporting Shatterproof and its unprecedented effort to tackle the disease of addiction, and bridge the enormous gap in addiction resources. Shatterproof is a national organization committed to systematically ending this disease, and I am proud to be one of its earliest supporters.” Mark O’Neill, Area Managing Director at the Equinox, Luxury Collection Hotel in Manchester, Vermont
Find and patronize the hotels that offer this program. And while you’re at it, consider adding yourself to Shatterproof’s mailing list to stay in the loop about advocacy, resources and opportunities to protect our children and our communities from addiction.
While cleaning out my office this week, I came across a dusty folder from 2007. It contained phone numbers of people who tried to help me and my son get help. I can barely see these kind souls through the hazy recollection of chaos and confusion. They were referrals from someone who knew someone who knew someone who had gone to rehab, or seen a certain counselor, or found a good 12-step program or interventionist.
I was utterly at the mercy of strangers. My child’s disintegration took place in fits and starts: one day all was well, the next day he was imploding, then perhaps he settled back into a relatively normal routine, or so it seemed. Along the way, I interviewed various counselors, school officials and doctors on the phone, trying to find one who would “stick.” They were all generous with their time, compassionate and earnest. I imagine many of them didn’t spot addiction as the root cause of the meltdown…or maybe they did and tried to tell me and I couldn’t hear it.
I found emails from school counselors who tried to steer him to classes where he could succeed….phone numbers of young men who were in recovery and willing to sponsor….the name of the interventionist who convinced him that detox was better than a life on the streets…a note I scribbled when his boss called my number “by mistake” to see why he was late for work. Looking back, I see that misdial as a subtle attempt to flag me that something was awry.
I never actually met any of these people, and they certainly have no idea how their kindness kept us from sinking entirely. The dusty folder that reminded me of them also reminds me how important it is to reach out to others in big and little ways.
ParentPathway is honored to share this information from parent Chris Fiore. The lack of insurance coverage for the disease of addiction can be deadly, and it impacts anyone who has tried to get medical help for a chemically-dependent loved one.
My 24-year-old son, Anthony, died May 31, 2014, following a six year battle with opioid and heroin addiction that included three unsuccessful short term treatment programs, each lasting less than 30 days, which was all that insurance would pay for.
For most people, this is simply not enough time to recover from the assault addictive drugs make on the body and to restore the life skills that keep a person from relapsing.
Research tells us that effective inpatient treatment leads to long term sobriety and fewer relapses. Ninety (90) day residential drug rehab is suggested as the minimum length of time for effective treatment. Anecdotal evidence gathered from post discharge patient interviews suggests that long-term treatment at a drug rehab facility can decrease the risk of drug addiction relapse by up to 73%. That can mean the difference between addiction and recovery—or even life and death.
The Anthony’s Act petition at MoveOn.org will tell your U.S. Senators and representatives:
The Affordable Care Act must be amended to provide for a minimum of Ninety (90) days inpatient drug or alcohol treatment up to a maximum of One Hundred Eighty (180) days per year at a facility certified to provide such care by the Secretary of Health of the state in which it is located.
Please sign the petition now, share it on your wall, and help create visibility for the need to provide humane and effective treatment to those who are chemically dependent, which is a chronic brain disease that rarely responds to a short stint in rehab.
As our beloved addicts decline, so do we, hell bent on parallel paths of destruction. My son was physically depleted/I was physically exhausted. He had legal problems/I had legal problems (his—which I made mine.). He was addicted/I was addicted to his addiction. It was overwhelming to survey the landscape of destruction that my home and life had become in the wake of Hurricane Addiction.
Just as we work on the twelve steps one at a time, just as we tackle each day—and sometimes each minute—one at a time, we pick up the pieces and move ahead one inch at a time. Baby steps are the order of the day.
Where to begin the repair work? I was very sick myself—heartsick, and physically depleted by the sleepless nights and the days of incessant worry. My baby steps took many shapes and forms, but across the board, felt like huge leaps. Sometimes I could hardly bring myself to turning off my phone in case he called, or in case someone else called about him. It took a lot of practice to think of myself instead of obsessing about my child; in fact, when people asked me about me, I often told them about him. I was consumed with locating him—where was he? What was he doing?
I had to learn to tell my brain “STOP” to turn it off. I worked with a great therapist to understand the role my childhood played in my response to my child’s dangerous choices. It took me a year to learn how to say No with conviction. No with a period; No meaning “End of sentence, end of discussion.” No meaning “No more.”
I had a lot of good role models, other mothers who showed me how to be strong and stay the course. As they say, practice makes perfect, and I am still practicing. What words of wisdom do you other parents have to share about taking those baby steps? What baby steps have helped you get recover from your child’s chemical dependency?
I sat next to a pediatrician at a charity dinner the other night, and the talk turned to teen addiction. He posed a thought-provoking question: “Do you feel guilty that your son became an addict?” If he had asked me that same question earlier in the game, my answer would have been an unequivocal “Yes.” I was wracked with guilt (co-mingled with anger, shame, horror and fear) because I believed I had somehow created an addict by failing my son in some unintended way, although I wasn’t certain what that was. Was I too controlling in my son’s young life? Not controlling enough? Were my standards unreachably high, or perhaps too low? Was I too much of a mother to him and not enough of a friend, or vice versa? My painful self-examination and self-flagellation was endless, but still—I had no answers. I didn’t know what I had done—right or wrong. In the rear view mirror, I began to look at my parenting as an abject failure.
My perspective started to change as I learned how, for some, drugs and alcohol take on a life of their own. It is a neurological, inheritable, biological reaction unrelated to willpower, character or desire. Apparently I passed that gene on to my son from my side of the family tree– unknowingly, as addiction hasn’t reared its ugly head in me. (The gift that keeps on giving across generations –Uugh). Still, my son has chemical dependency in his genetic toolkit where it keeps company with courage, determination and his very kind nature, among many other great qualities. Those are the gifts that he uses today in his life of active recovery. He got those from me, too.
But I won’t take credit for the good stuff any more than I take blame for the bad. My son was dealt a genetic hand of cards; how he plays it is up to him. And how I play the hand that life deals me is up to me, and that includes discarding the guilt card whenever I can.
There is no single answer to this question. It depends on your relationship with your parents or in-laws, and your child’s relationship with them.
If grandparents don’t have contact with your beloved, chemically-dependent child, why tell them about the pain and struggle? If grandparents are fragile and sick, don’t add to their worries. In short, if there is no reason for them to know, then there is no reason for them to know. Alternatively, if they are close to your child, they probably already have concerns and may actually be relieved to learn you’re taken steps to get help. And they may be able to offer financial resources to help with rehab.
Possible “land mine” ahead: many of “the Greatest Generation” are in the dark about the biological origins of chemical dependency and may consider this a character or personality defect. Be ready to explain to them that your child has a brain disease and has become chemically-dependent upon drugs or alcohol. Help them understand that there is great hope for sobriety, and that you are taking steps as a family to get help.
It’s critical that grandparents understand you need to be united as a family. That means Grandpa cannot give the addict money, and Grandpa cannot make her home a safe place for the alcoholic to crash. You all need to be united in the conviction that professional assistance is necessary to help your child get healthy again. You need to circle the wagons around your child.
This is not a time for blame or guilt. (Is there ever a time for blame and guilt??) No one made your child an alcoholic/addict, any more than anyone could make him or her diabetic or allergic. No one has the power to make another person chemically-dependent. And no one but the addict or alcoholic has the power to reclaim their sobriety. Long-term recovery is within reach: 23 million Americans have already claimed theirs. If you enlist Grandma and Grandpa in a loving and informed way, your child will have a healthy network to help them claim their own recovery.
Having a child struggling with drug or alcohol abuse is a very difficult situation. We're glad you are visiting our site and we hope you find some peace of mind through the support of other parents and services offered by this site. Please keep coming back!