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!

Reflecting on the Progress of Personal Growth

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.

Uncluttering my life, including my co-dependency

closetLast weekend, I completed a much-overdue task: 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 clothes, books, knick-knacks, just to name a few, I started feeling a sense of unburdening.  While I do not like to have a messy house, I have to confess that I do have small, tuck away messy areas.  I have a tendency to do a big clean-up project and then slowly it gets cluttered time moves forward in my busy life.  As I was going through this process I realized 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 of 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 that is their responsibility.  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.

The perils of parenting a substance-abusing adult child

It has been said over and again, parents are the biggest influence over their children.  I must of thought that meant for life.  There were times I might have had a moment of influential pride – what I call the “my child is an honor student syndrome.”  I never went so far as to affix it to my car bumper! I was more apt to give my children credit where credit was due.  THEY worked hard at it…HE always had a love for basketball…HE was driven to pursue…I don’t know where they got it!”  But there are situations where rightful ownership is distorted by pride –  “Yep, that’s my boy!” With unsaid attitude: “I raised ‘em right!”

When behavior turns risky and substance abuse leads to addiction, the parental influence becomes nonexistent.  But, like me, most parents don’t stop trying to reclaim their influence.  And if crime related incidences by underage adults happen, we are quick to blame the parents casting quick judgment – “she deserves imprisonment” – “How can the parents allow that to happen?”

Like most of us struggling with an addict in the family, I stressed with martyrdom.  I spent every waking moment trying to prevent or stop the unthinkable consequences of the risky behavior.  I acted as if I had the ability to stop it.  I acted like I caused it.  I acted to regain that parental influence I was entitled to have!  I’ll admit there was a bit of guilt, what I call the  “what will the neighbor’s think syndrome.”

The flip side of giving credit where credit is due is taking responsibility for something I don’t own, good or bad.  It’s easier to allow them the glory of success than to allow them the dignity of living with a disease.  Who wouldn’t give their right arm to take away their pain?  What good did it do in trying?   It is this distorted thinking that causes further problems in helping my children recover from their drug addiction.   The perils of parenting are for life but it’s never too late to improve on it.

Ironies of Addiction and Recovery

Baby boy socksThis is another guest post from Jane, who is chronicling her family’s experience with her son’s addiction.

Our son has over 70 days clean.  He received his green key at NA, has a Home Group, a Sponsor and just got a job–one of the requirements for his stay at the halfway house where he’s been living for over a month, post-rehab, in Florida.  He never thought he’d like Florida, but like many things in recovery, he’s finding his temporary home and environment surprisingly pleasant– amazing, considering he was nocturnal and more like a vampire than a human just a few months ago.  For years he said he disliked beaches, beach culture, exercise and sun.  He now has a tan, bicycles daily, and spends an hour or two at the beach whenever he has extra time.

Our son was a rural New Jersey boy, born and raised in the northwestern farmlands but enamored of everything New York City.  So after high school, off he went, eight years ago, to college in the Big City, where he now tells us he spent a good deal of time drinking and smoking pot.  This was no surprise to us, his parents.  We’re realists who did our fair share in college during the 70’s, but we’d warned him many times about the “harder stuff,” the “addictive stuff.”

What’s interesting about my husband, myself and our children is that we’re all very physically sensitive– to chemicals, medications, and many other substances.  Half-doses of medications usually work best for us.  We’re prone to headaches and allergies. Too much sugar, salt, caffeine–almost anything– will usually cause one discomfort or another.  So when our son told us a few years back that he didn’t really care for alcohol and was allergic to pot, we felt relieved.  Our son was actually maturing faster, was adapting to his physical reality better than we had at his age!  Wow.

What our son didn’t admit was that he was still intent on partaking of something.  He didn’t like that he was relatively straight while his friends were imbibing on things that he couldn’t tolerate. So while his friends were doing their pot, their alcohol, their hallucinogens, he gravitated to prescription opiates and, finally, blues– the synthetic heroin hybrid pills chemically tweaked to deliver the ultimate high.  It was a match made in hell.  Our son found something he not only tolerated but loved, and to him, it felt like they loved him back.

And so it began… socially at first, then as an antidote to a contract job at Morgan Stanley that he started enthusiastically and eventually hated; and finally, as an answer to the joblessness that followed and the life he saw slipping away, like his dreams of being the James Bond of Wall Street.  He said to me recently that an addict is born an addict.  The question is whether or not he finds his substance.  He said he knew long ago, when he had his wisdom teeth out, that painkillers were his drug of choice.  I remember I’d taken such care to monitor his doses, handing him one pill at a time as needed.  He says no strategy would’ve worked because sooner or later he would’ve found his way to his “high.”

I find out new things every time I speak to my son on the phone.  He tells me about his past, and about the present:  the subtleties of his NA meetings, the dealers who tempt him as he rides his bike, his need to keep it simple, every day.  We text about the lighter stuff and send emojis.

While our son is finding new ways to live in Florida, my husband and I are trying to find new ways to “be” in New Jersey.  We can’t shake the cyclical waves of anxiety, of gloom and doom.  We worry about if and when our son returns to our area and how that will play out.  We pray he can continue his recovery but can’t imagine living through another episode of his possible drug use. Honestly, we sometimes wish we could find our own “high” to offset the feeling that everything we put our hearts and souls into has imploded.  Like many our age we find ourselves questioning what we thought we knew about this crazy world, about the people in it, about our life.

What I suddenly do know too well, because I’m really paying attention now, is that Addiction is Everywhere.  Some are addicted to drugs and alcohol, others to sex and sugar.  Some are even addicted to fear and pain, not because they chose to be, but because the mental groove has become wide and deep.  That’s us–my husband and I.

As I watch the sun come up I wonder how we can fully extricate ourselves from the darkness of our experiences and start fresh.  I share a few sobs with morning light and then smile as I imagine my husband and I retiring, perhaps to Florida someday, a place we never would have considered before.

 

Disruptive addiction – keeping sane when things implode

I was reminded recently of how difficult it can be when you have an addict in the house. In this case it is a young adult coming back home for a few days. As parents we want to see our kids even if they are wreaking havoc in our home. We hope that maybe next time will be different. We set boundaries and make our expectations clear. We start to forget how stressful it was the last time and how we will do what we can to keep things even keel. Yet when you have an addict in the family it is always unpredictable as to what may set them off. One moment you are enjoying your family and the next something happens and the anger and verbal abuse comes flying out. Suddenly your happy home becomes a place where you fear for what will happen next.

It’s been a long while since this has happened in my house. But I don’t have to think too hard to remember when it did and how incredibly stressful it was. It was the proverbial walking on eggshells always wanting to make sure that something didn’t get said or done that would set off a negative chain of events. I learned the hard way that I really didn’t need to take the abuse and that when I started setting boundaries and sticking to them (the hard part!) that slowly things started to change. An addict is very much like a two year old throwing a tantrum, if you let them get away with it then it will just keep happening again and again. Stay strong in setting and holding your boundaries to protect yourself and your family. This will help you to reclaim the peace and serenity in your household that you deserve to have every day.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Recognizing addiction in loved one Dr. Jantz“Tears are words the mouth can’t say nor can the heart bear.”
- Joshua Wisenbaker

Making the choice on how we want to ‘be’ in our lives

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” -John Lennon
I’ve always loved this story by John Lennon. How often do we hear ‘do what makes you happy?’ Yet we pass judgment on decisions that others make based on our own views and most likely our own definition of what makes us happy. This quote from Lennon is a good reminder that it isn’t what we do when we grow up but how we decided to ‘be’. In its purest form ‘be’ means to exist or live. The question is how do we want to exist or live?
We make choices every moment throughout the day on how we want to be. When we have a grumpy driver cut us off while on our way to work we can decided to get upset and let it ruin our day or we can let it go without letting it disrupt us at that moment. There are so many choices on how we will ‘be’ with every interaction that we encounter. When my children were young and I was a single working mother mornings were challenging as I was getting ready for work and getting them ready for school. On the mornings where I kept a calm, kind and flexible attitude it would be a pleasant morning and day. But when I became tense, rigid and short with my words it was would be a definite struggle to get out the door and everyone, not just me, would start off on the wrong foot. Being aware of how we choose to ‘be’ is a huge step to being what we strive to ‘be’.

Finding the quiet moments – trading stress for serenity

When I hear the word ‘serenity’ I often think of a quiet moment alone preferably somewhere in nature. Yet serenity comes to us in many different ways. The definition of serenity is ‘the state of being calm, peaceful, untroubled.’ As a parent who has been on a journey of having a loved one struggle with addiction and has a quest to gain serenity I am very aware that serenity can be an elusive foe. What looks like serenity to me may not work for someone else. One of the ways that I seek serenity is through outdoor activity.  A long run puts me in a place that is very calming. I relax and concentrate on the moment. The farther I run, the more my troubles melt away as if I am leaving them behind. While this sometimes may only result in serenity while on my run, it is a welcomed respite when I am struggling to detach from what is bogging me down.

Everyone has their own image of what serenity means to them and how they work to get there. As parents we have a tendency to take our children’s troubles and worry about them. While we may not be able to get to a place where we are free of worrying about our loved ones, we can get to a place where we have moments of serenity. It’s important to think of how you can release yourself and enjoy moments of serenity. This may be having a cup of tea with a friend, going for a walk, baking, golfing, the list is very long and all depends on your interests. You might start out with a short activity and then increase over time. Trading your stress for serenity will lead to feeling healthy. We all know that stress causes so many conditions to our physical body, our mood and our behavior. By working on your serenity it will not only help you cope with difficult challenges in your life, it will also help you feel better and be more present in your life.

Top Ten List for “Newby” Parents of Addicts or Alcoholics

Discovering that your child is abusing drugs or alcohol opens a whole new world of disbelief, dismay and pain.  How can you forge ahead when you make that awful discovery?  Here are some ideas:

  • Learn everything you can about the disease of addiction. Our book list is a good place to start.
  • Find support.  There are Al-Anon Family Groups in many cities and online. Consider family or personal counseling.
  • Attend an open AA meeting to hear firsthand from those who are embracing their recovery. Never lose faith that your child can join the twenty million Americans in long-term recovery.
  • Talk with your close family members so everyone is on the same page about the disease.  Secrets and sickness fester in dark corners.
  • Try to understand that there is no more shame in a chemically dependent child than a child with diabetes or cancer.
  • Take care of yourself.  Anxiety and stress can make you sick, too.  Read The Mood Cure to understand the role that nutrition plays in your family’s health.
  • Feel your anger and your pain.  Bottled-up anger makes you sick.
  • It’s OK to hate the addiction, but try to love your child. Let your child know that you love him or her , even though you hate the choices they made and the behaviors that came along for the ride.
  • Hold on to hope, one minute or one hour or one day at a time.