In the journey of addiction there are only 3 outcomes for those who stay in their drug and/or alcohol addiction. They will eventually end up in jail, ‘locked up’, due to their substance abuse and all of the desperation that it causes and poor judgment that accompanies their using. Second, they could end up ‘covered up’ which is where their addiction leads to death. Death comes in many forms for those in addiction – car crashes driving under the influence, overdose of drugs sometimes on accident, other times on purpose, their body could just give up due to all of the harsh effects of continuous drugs and alcohol. As a parent these are devastating situations. Certainly losing a child to a prison or jail sentence is heart breaking. And losing your child to death is incomprehensible.
The last option and the one that we all carry hope for is that our loved ones will ‘sober up’. Of the three eventual outcomes, we pray endlessly that our loved ones will find recovery. We all wish there was a magic formula that would cure our kids and make them whole again. There isn’t an easy answer, but there are resources along the way. I have found that gaining as much knowledge about addiction as I can so that I can understand the disease will help me to know what I’m up against. I can also attend support group meetings (Al-anon) with other parents to help weather the storm with those who understand. And I can to be positive without being naïve about the realities of the situation. I will envision ‘sobered up’ as the outcome for my loved one and everyone who struggles with the disease of addiction.
Someone mentioned recently what a big smile I had. I responded, ‘Yes, I have a lot to smile about…’ Then I thought about how that wasn’t always the case. There were many days and weeks that would go by with no sign of a smile. This was during the depths of the dark time with my child’s struggle with addiction. I was consumed with worry and obsession about her well-being. I did not find joy in anything, even when there were good things going, because my heart ached with despair. But as I reflect, over time that changed. As I got healthier and realized that I was not in control of the outcome of another person’s life, I began to regain my own. I went from reacting to the day to day crisis to being proactive and in control of my boundaries and my time. This began to give me peace of mind, serenity and sanity.
It’s hard to imagine that you can be happy if your child is not happy. But it is possible to disconnect from the sinking ship that is their addiction and swim to shore. Once I started to get perspective and take care of myself, I realized that if I got stronger and healthier I could be in a better position to help my daughter. It is like the airlines when the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first then help your child. It is the best analogy, how can you save them when you are suffocating yourself? As parents we love our children so much that we would do anything to save them from harm. But the very act of helping a loved one in addiction can, sometimes, have the opposite effect and help keep them in their addiction. I am glad that I am smiling today. I have a lot to smile about…my family is in a good place, my daughter is clean and sober. I am grateful for the happiness that I have and I know that just for today I will enjoy and feel grateful.
Often we are faced with decisions that we need to make on whether we will help our loved one in addiction. When we first start dealing with the wreckage of a loved one’s addiction we are often uninformed and ill equipped about what to do, I know I was. It seemed whatever I did just made things worse and I became more resentful. For example many addicts go from rehab to a sober living house. Although many times there is an agreement that if they relapse they need to figure out where they will go and not give them an option to come home. Yet when the dreaded relapse occurs, we are faced with this heart wrenching decision – do we leave them out in the cold or take them in?
I’m not for one decision or the other – both have consequences which can be very unpleasant or it could have a good outcome. In my experience we did what we felt in our heart when faced with difficult decisions. And sometimes the outcome was not good for my daughter and actually enabled her to keep going down a dark road. The bottom line is that there is no ‘right’ answer. Many people will have opinions on what to do – very strong opinions. But in the end it’s your child and you have to make the decision that is best for you and your situation. We need to look at each decision and think about whether it will help or whether it will hinder the health and well-being of the people involved. With each decision and outcome we learn, we adjust, and keep moving forward. Each family has to work together and make the next ‘right’ decision for their circumstance.
‘No news is good news’ – an age old saying that we often hear. In terms of a loved one with addiction it is a mixed feeling you get when you don’t hear from them as often as you think you should. These are rampant expectations that swirl through my head. Hmmm…I haven’t heard from my daughter in a couple days, what does that mean? Of course my mind plays lots of games with the answer to that question. Even though my daughter has been in recovery quite a while now, I realize my recovery from the trauma of having a loved in such a treacherous situation for an extended period of time holds residual effects for me. In the heat of the addiction, when I didn’t hear from my daughter for days, it ALWAYS meant something bad. I would fret and pace and do all kinds of crazy things to try to figure out what was going on.
Now as we have reached a place of normalcy in our lives, we have a healthy flow of communication. So, when time goes by that is not in our regular cadence it startles me how quickly I let myself begin the wondering and second guessing. Should I casually call her work and see if she’s there and okay? What if something happened to her? How would I know? And although these thoughts come to me, I am very aware of how they don’t belong and I remember the ‘no news is good news’ saying. If something was wrong she would call me! What is so humorous is that when she does call or I call her and finally get ahold of her it is always met with ‘I’ve been working long hours and it’s exhausting!’ or ‘I got together with friends and we had a great time!’. It is a constant reminder to me to enjoy the moments of my life and not let the unnecessary worry, that robs me of my real time joy, control me.
Many times it seems that I look at the situation at hand and want more progress or have high expectations. Today I was discussing this journey that I have been on with some friends. I was relaying the trials and tribulations that occurred over the past 4 years. Later I began to think about how bad it had become when my daughter was in the depths of her addiction. I thought about how many times I almost lost her from various harmful situations she had been in. I thought about how she became someone I didn’t recognize and I was so desperate to have my daughter back. It made me realize that even though there is still growth and responsibilities to take on, so much progress has taken place. I had to pause and take stock of all the blessings that have occurred through this journey.
There are many blessings but the one that is the most prevalent for me is the fact that traveling this journey with my daughter has led me to experience tremendous growth myself. When I was desperate to help my daughter I was led to discover that the best thing I could personally do for her was to get help myself. I realized that the most loving thing I could do was to become knowledgeable about addiction and what I could do to stop enabling her. Learning that I did not and could not control everything taught me how to let go and be free of the stress that consumed me. This has been one of the blessings and today I took the time to reflect on this and be grateful for these discoveries.
One of the characteristic of addictive behavior is a lack in patience to wait for want you want. This is also characteristic of many people, but it is particularly prevalent when someone has the disease of addiction. It makes sense that when someone is struggling with drug addiction and they are coming down from the drugs that they have an ‘instant’ urgency to fill the void with the next fix. What can happen is that this also transcends to all aspects of the addicts interaction. Even as recovery from the addiction comes into play, the desire to instantly satisfy a craving or desire is a challenge.
As a person who struggles with co-dependency, I know that I play a part in this behavior. Early in my daughters addiction I didn’t understand that many times the urgency of something was not realistic or warranted. I would be convinced that the upgraded cell phone was absolutely essential to getting a job or the gas money was not enough because, because, because,…the list goes on. And while now it seems so obvious to me, at the beginning of the journey I wanted to believe my loved one. As recovery grows and sets in, I see these behaviors dissipate. Partly due to the upgraded conversation we have when a need is expressed. I know to not take on the issues or problems that are not mine and to let her know that she’s capable to fix them and I’m willing to give advice. It might sound like sound parenting to a young adult transitioning into a responsible member of society, and it is, but it can be a challenge to break old patterns and create new healthy boundaries moving forward.
I have a friend who has a saying, “I have the right to remain silent, I just don’t have the ability.” While this always gets a chuckle, it also definitely hits home. As a co-dependent I have a tendency to get into other people’s business. But I know I don’t need to step in and solve problems for those around me. This isn’t easy for me, I want to help and relieve the discomfort of those I care about. The problem is that I create unhealthy dynamics when I do this. I teach the person who is responsible for solving the problem that they are not capable. And I put undue burden on myself.
With a loved one in addiction, the problems are never ending. My tendency is to jump in like a paratrooper ready to descend into actionI It feels good to help work through the issues and remedy the situations that arise. But what I have found is that the problems just kept coming and by taking them on, I am teaching the wrong behaviors to my loved one. There is no incentive to safeguard against these problems from coming again and again since they know I would step into action each and every time, they don’t work to avoid them. When I step back and remain silent when the next crisis occurs, my loved one has to step up and figure out how to solve them. But more importantly they begin to figure out how to avoid them in the first place. Sometimes no action when it is not my issue is the best action of all.
It can be difficult to change behaviors that sometimes become a natural reaction. When my daughter was struggling with addiction I became very wary of anything she said or did. As things began to change with time and my daughter began to heal in her recovery, I often had to catch myself and how I was. In the past when certain situations would arise I would have to be very suspect of motives and underlying truths. But as my daughter was coming out of the fog of addiction, she was changing and growing. I would find myself second guessing or projecting past experiences on the current experiences unfairly.
Sometimes it would start with a feeling of discomfort and I would realize that I was not being fair. At times I would even express this to my daughter and apologize for not trusting her when she gave me no reason at the time to distrust. I always found it heartwarming that she would understand and say things like, ‘I know Mom, it is going to take time for me to prove myself to you and the rest of the family.’ The fact is, this is true, but I can also be open and willing as time moves forward to not have the same reaction as in the past. I realize that changes come with time and I will continue to do my part in moving forward.
I was once asked by a friend, ‘What has changed with you since going through this experience with your daughters struggle with addiction?’ It is an interesting question because I can reel off quite of few quick thoughts, but as I think deeper about the question – it quiets me to reflect on the monumental overhaul that has taken place with me, my daughter, my family and even acquaintances in some ways. I have been humbled by this journey. I have learned so much about judgment and how incredibly unfair it is. When I hear of a situation that I may have judged in the past, I think different thoughts…I think about what the person may be going through or how hard it is or how I wish I could help in some way. I have also learned about compassion in the face of hurt and betrayal.
A person struggling with addiction does not want to steal, cheat and hurt the very ones that love them so dearly. They have a disease that robs their brain of logical thinking while active in the addiction, with the only cure to abstain and let the brain heal – this takes time, but it is possible. I’ve learned so many things that have changed me. I am grateful for the little things that happen in my daily life. I’m grateful when the day ends and my family is safe and healthy, I don’t fret about insignificant occurrences that I might have in the past – they simply aren’t important. But of all the things I have learned, the ones I treasure the most are to love unconditionally – I may not like some things that happen, but I still love the people in my life regardless. And to be grateful for all things big or small that happen in my life – I know the darkness that can descend and I choose to be grateful now for each moment of light.
There’s a saying that has been very helpful along my journey through my daughters struggle with addiction – ‘Say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean’. Many times the first part ‘say what you mean’ is the easiest. I can often express what I mean to say, even in the heat of the moment when I’m upset or stressed. The second part ‘mean what you say’ is where the challenge starts for me. I’ll give an example. Early in the journey when my daughter was active in her addiction she had gotten out of rehabilitation and was going into a sober living house. I said what I meant, ‘You need to have a plan if you relapse and use drugs/alcohol again because coming home is not an option’. I truly meant this and I knew it was what was best for her. ‘Mean what you say’ is where you hold your loved one accountable to the consequences of their actions. Those consequences are among the very things that can help someone struggling with addiction to seek recovery.
I remember at one point early in my daughter’s journey while she was living in a sober living house that she called me late one night. She said, “I got kicked out, I messed up, I need to come home, I have nowhere to go…’. Short of getting a call that your loved one has been hurt or worse, this was the call we parents dread when we have said coming home is not an option. This happened quite a few years ago and I have learned so much since then about how the most loving thing you can do is stick to what you said. Late that night I couldn’t bear the thought of where my daughter would go or what might happen to her and I let her come home. Five days later she drove her car while seriously intoxicated and crashed into a tree. By the grace of God, she survived. I had been gently coached by a parent who had been through this when I told him that I let her come home. He said, “Your very actions to rescue your daughter from the consequence of her action may very well kill her one day”. While this seemed harsh at the time – it was 2 days before the accident. His words haunted me, he was so right. I did not hold her accountable due to my fears. I became very resolved from that moment on to ‘Say what I mean, mean what I say and don’t say it mean’ and it has made all the difference in our respective recoveries.