This is an “encore” post from Eliza
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?
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.”
This is an “encore” post from Eliza
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.
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??