My obsession with (fill in the blanks) affects all my children

There was a time I used the siblings to debrief my anguish and worry about the other “one” – the child whose absence or drama was taking center stage and getting my full attention. Unaware of how damaging this would be to the remaining family members, I did this for a long time.   The realization that my actions might have contributed to a form of suffering on them was a hard nut to swallow.  I had to learn it the hard way; it seems to be a recurring theme for me. I first pondered the notion when listening to Alateens share their hurt, abandonment and other issues they kept to themselves while watching mom or dad get progressively worse in their futile attempts to straighten up the “affected” one’s life. I’d hear how some would become overly protective and sometimes take the role of caretaker, worried about the troubled sibling. Some would get resentful about all the attention given to the other.  The entanglement of the family disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. To the “normal” sibling, the desire for mom and dad to get happy again would become their focus.  So, in a sense, young co-dependents were forming as the family disease reached epidemic proportions.  I wondered which role my children fell into.

Becoming aware didn’t actually help me with how to do better…the Al-Anon Family Group and 12 step recovery program was my road map for change. I had to start over with training wheels, in a sense, beginning with me and my contributions to the family disease.   It began with accepting I had problems of my own to work on. The hope for me was that I could mend broken relations with all those who mattered in my life.

Today, with guarded mouth and awareness of the family disease, I try to keep the focus and be present with those who stand before me. I no longer ask prying questions about the “other” one whose lifestyle is concerning. I consciously choose to seize those opportunities with gratitude to be allowed the accompaniment of their presence. Most critically, I get to be PRESENT with no conditions and that is my GIFT to them.

When will the misery end? Stages of Grieving: parenting addicted children

My husband said “no” when my 30 year old son asked to borrow his truck. The conversation ended badly: my son hung up on him with a flippant “I didn’t think it would be a big deal.” My husband is feeling sad about it all.  He said some things he wishes he could take back, replay or do differently. I recognize the defeatism and self-deprecating emotions that happen from outcomes like this. I’ve had a few of my own. Everything about a child’s drug abuse and addiction can have negative consequences for parents. The worry and fear. Then there’s the doubt you place on yourself as a parent; then there’s the resistance to the truth – wishing you could say yes, often saying yes to avoid conflict. Then there’s the hurt and emotional suffering you go through because even though you know intellectually, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control, you can’t cure it, it still doesn’t make the situation better or release you from responsibility. I just wish he was doing better, had sought recovery and fought relapse. The truth is he is ripping and running right now and I am powerless over it.

This disease is an inside job. When will the misery end? It ends when I let go and let God. When I accept what is and chose recovery from the family disease.  I can chose another way in my relation to this disease, yes,  I will have sadness, but not all consuming misery.

Sister Bea talked about the 5 stages of grief in a retreat I attended.  Parents discover grieving  is a term that aptly describes our feelings of having sons and daughters afflicted with addiciton.  First there is denial. Denial of reality is a symptom of our disease. At first, it had its place – to cope with the unthinkable. Used too long, my life becomes unmanageable. Next comes bargaining, a weird but true phenomena with your interaction with God. OH God, I promise this, if you do that! The 3rd stage is anger and there are many articles and reading material about anger. Many parents of drug addicts have issues with anger and resentments. Parent Pathway has a wonderful meeting-in-a-box exercise for Anger and I often speak about it (click here). Fourth is sadness – so strong it overtakes you. For some, there can be clinical depression and other disorders from it. Finally, there are snippets of acceptance, and all of this happens at different points in time. With acceptance there is a shift in attitude filled with hope, growth and splendor through spiritual relief. It is here I find solace from the family disease of substance abuse. It brings me back to the present moment – neither dreading the next moment nor dwelling over past moments. I accept there will be pain and sadness sometimes, but with acceptance, events such as this won’t torment me through the 5 stages of grief.

Free from Worry – Regain control of yourself in order to help your addicted child

StressSomeone 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.

No News is Good News – Stay in the moment, don’t let worry rob your joy

‘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.

A child’s addiction and leaps of faith

Chaos of AddictionI took an anatomy class a while back, and one day we talked about the ways that energy manifests itself in the human body.  Along the way, we discussed how hard it is to believe something that we cannot see.  In response, my teacher pulled out his iPhone and showed us his newest app.  When he traced the screen with his fingertip, a corona of light splayed out, and the light show followed his finger as he traced it across the screen.

Another student blurted out—only somewhat in jest–“If only I had that app, I’d have faith.”  Faith, like human energy, can be hard to see in action and impossible to quantify.  Yet we often need to “see it before we believe it.”  So that begs the question: what does faith look like?  What does trusting the universe look like in my daily life?”

I can tell you what faith doesn’t look like:  faith doesn’t look like the endless struggle, arm-wrestling and exhaustion that is the keynote of parenting a chemically-dependent child.

Faith is a hard – and as simple as admitting, “I can’t do this by myself.  I’m bowing out and letting my Higher Power take over.”  When accustomed to battling your child’s substance abuse, that can be crazy hard to do.  But leaps of faith are just that:  leaps into thin air made possible by the belief that in a power that is a magical and real as a corona of light—on heaven, on earth, or on an iPhone app.

Don’t Worry! Powerful But Simple Illustration Why Anxious Thoughts Have No Value in Your Serenity

Using the power of the mind to short-circuit addiction’s fears

It all starts with a thought. The thought creates a feeling. Feelings are not necessarily factual. For example, if I say to myself, “Tonight, I’m going to go out for dinner,” I begin to feel hungry and excited that I will get to be served with a meal that I really enjoy. My feelings change physiological conditions in my body. Maybe I begin to wear the Cheshire grin in anticipation or I might even be emitting endorphins, those “feel good” brain chemicals which in turn flood my veins resulting in a natural high. But the truth is, I might not be going out to dinner at all! It’s just a thought!

Loving someone whose substance abuse has led to terrible consequences resulted in a problem for me with regards to my thinking. My thoughts turned from optimistic to obsessive thinking about them. Eventually I began to be pessimistic about everything. I became overtaken by the gloom and doom that drug abuse causes.  This is called the family disease of addiction. These negative thoughts also impact my feelings. I’m worried, sad, fearful and anxious. With these kinds of feelings, my body takes on a dangerous reaction: high blood pressure, weight gain, blood sugar peaks, teeth grinding. My sleep was fitful and my ability to concentrate at work became problematic.

I found out this kind of circuitry can be interrupted with the power of my mind. I can choose to find help to get the tools necessary to regain control of my own thoughts! I also can choose to do nothing. The difference between these two statements: “Things upset me” versus “I upset me” are the most powerful thoughts to which my life goes one way or the other.

How to mind my own business when my grown child struggles

I had heard in recovery rooms that when I take responsibility for my loved ones, I am robbing them of the dignity they deserve to experience life on their own. When I continue to harp, beg, plea, judge or offer advice, I’m ultimately in their business, trying to force solutions and eventually will lose their respect.  Worse, I could be adding to the bad opinion they already have about themselves.

This is not the mother I wanted to be! How could I be concerned but not consumed? How was it possible to love them unconditionally when my fear for their life was at stake? I was so obsessed with their problems, thinking I knew the answer; I would bring home pamphlets from on Alcoholics Anonymous and leave the literature scattered around the house in hopes they would pick it up and see the light!  That never worked either.

After being in Al-Anon for a while, I eventually learned tools to keep the focus on me and stay out of their business. Slowly I began to see results. One example I still remember to this day was when my son called and asked if he could come over for dinner and “talk.” Many recent events had happened that were concerning – I was well aware of where he was: jobless, homeless and alone. I was a little apprehensive, wondering what news he would bring this time. After a nice dinner with general conversation, he shared that he thought he might have a drinking problem. Oddly, I was elated to hear him admit a problem. There were 3 things I was able to do that day that made me proud of my program. I said “oh” which helped me compose my thoughts before blurting out something hurtful or unnecessary. The next thing out of my mouth was that I did not know if he was an alcoholic or not but that there were people who could help him learn about it and that I might still have their pamphlet. (I prayed I still had all the literature long put away). When he was getting ready to leave and I had no idea where he was staying (in his car?) I let him know how much I loved him and that I hoped to see him soon.

The most important lesson for me was that by being non-judgmental, not pretending to know the answer, and further, not turning his confidence into a nagging session, I was able to be the mother I want to always be: RESPECTFUL, CARING, and LOVING. I helped where I could then I allowed him to decide what he would do with it. Then I turned it over to my Higher Power, as I placed my son’s name into my God Box later that night. This released me from obsessive thoughts of worry that before had consumed me.

 

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.

 

Parents of addicted or alcoholic children: first you think, then you feel

The power of my thoughts can change the way I act. Thoughts drive symptoms. For me, symptoms were anxious feelings. I was fearful that any one of my sons may at any point in time fall into serious consequences. I had obsessive thoughts and continual replay of past events when I may have had a better influence on them. This kept me longing for things I could not have back. Everything in my life was drama. Living with active addiction creates mayhem. Then my thoughts turned to physical symptoms: Panic attacks, blood pressure; an altered immune system that, if left untreated, would leave me in medical crises.

It used to bother me when the doctor would say my problem was stress. I felt it was a cop-out.  What I did not know is that stress is not reality; stress is how my mind reacts to the reality around it. The old adage  “things upset me” versus “I upset me” point of view. But then my mind would say, “my son’s drug problem upsets me, and when he gets better, I won’t have stress anymore.” This type of thinking did not help me or my son in anyway. It kept me in a circular self-defeating mindset.

Sometimes change is forced on us. It wasn’t like I made a conscience effort to seek help for myself, I stumbled on the notion I needed help while searching for help for my sons. I had to experience desperation which opened up a willingness to try a new way to manage an old problem. The disease of addiction is progressive as were my negative thoughts. My symptoms became greater than my desire to maintain familiar tactics.  It was this force, greater than me, that propelled me to change.  I simply wanted to feel better.