Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Are you choosing to live in joy?

Letting go of grief over your child’s substance abuse

Photo of Ricki TownsendFor parents whose children struggle with substance abuse, the New Year gives us an opportunity to start fresh and welcome new, healthier attitudes or behaviors. But what happens if we find ourselves clenching grief or loss so tightly that we cannot embrace happiness or joy? Ricki Townsend, a family counselor and interventionist who helps families work thought grief, shares some ideas about letting go.

“We have dreams and hopes for our children as they grow and discover life. Then one day we wake up to find they have become involved in the battle of addiction. And so our life as we hoped it would be has changed. As parents, we may find we have trouble sleeping, we may start to have health issues, we may find ourselves crying or even angry over the simplest of things. Please look at the possibility that you are grieving the loss of your child as you knew him or her.

Grief and loss are naturally interwoven into addiction. Grief is different for each one of us, but please don’t discount it. We put so much energy into getting back our child that we often forget about ourselves. Here are some ways to deal with your grief:

  • If you acknowledge that you are grieving, I invite you to work through the grieving process with a counselor who will help you understand your losses and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.
  • Grief can feel suffocating.  A good exercise to release grief is to take a very deep breath, hold it tightly and then release it slowly. You will feel your body calm down. It is also therapeutic to cry in the shower or yell in the car or smash pillows with a tennis racquet—anything physical to vent your sorrow, your anger, your disappointment.
  • You might also want to write a letter to whatever is running your life—addiction, fear, remorse—and tell it that you are taking back your life.  You can also write down your sorrows and regrets and burn them in a fireplace or “burning bowl.”  The important thing is to symbolically purge your “if only’s” so that you can free yourself to live more in the moment.
  • There are also some great books that will help support our recovery. Check out The
    Grief Recovery Handbook
    by John W. James and Russell Friedman or The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson.

It is up to each of us to ‘push the clouds away’ in order to be happy. Don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t become a victim—you have the power to reclaim your serenity.  Best wishes for a healthy New Year.”   

Ricki Townsend

 

 

The Phenomenon of Letting-Go

Hands releasing oxygen bubbles

There are many gifts resulting from letting go of old thoughts, beliefs and non-truths. My experience is that the Letting-Go phenomenon follows acceptance. It’s a shift in thinking. If I accept that alcoholism is a disease, then I can let go of the ridiculous notion that I can control it. I then can let go of blame, shame and responsibility of other people’s predicaments. If I can accept that I cannot control people, then I can let go of rescuing, reasoning, judging, projecting and ultimately self defeating thoughts and actions. If I can let go of what other people think of me, then I can begin to accept who I am and not who I think you want me to be. Just the act of acceptance affords opportunities for me to change. Change doesn’t hurt. Resistance to change hurts. I’m quite sure it would be nice to be in a position to say my loved ones are doing well and in recovery, but that is not the case today. Because I can accept this fact today, I can let go of wanting what I don’t have. More importantly, I am very grateful for what I do have and this is just one by-product of my acceptance / letting- go experience

.

Don’t just do something, sit there!

meditationI made a call to a long time member of the Al-Anon Family Group.  He doesn’t know me but I have heard him speak at meetings; his story of hope with his son who is well over 40 years now continues to be a source of great comfort.  My intent was for insight – I was anxious about another parent suffering through some tuff days.  What, exactly, did I think this anonymous person would do for my friend I hadn’t considered when I made the call.

In my effort to seek help for another, I ended up getting help for myself!

This awesome conversation cannot be duplicated here.  But there were key points for me.  Like when he said “…this program teaches us rigorous honesty and we must ask ourselves what part we had in the crises we experience today.  It is here true recovery begins.  Our Higher Power shows us that we have the right to plan ahead; we just don’t have the right to plan an outcome.”

At some point I realized my own co-dependency was rearing its ugly head.  I wanted to fix someone else’s
problem.  Why?  Because their suffering was uncomfortable for me and my reflex was an uncontrollable urge to do something…more.  Like more is better or doing something is better than nothing! “Remember”, he said, “we learn in this program that unconditional love means you give it away but you don’t expect anything in return.”

This outreach helped me accept discomfort.  And knowing when to do nothing is a wisdom
learned in recovery.  It is often discomfort that reveals another opportunity to learn and grow.  Like the addict, maybe we too have to feel the heat before we see the light!

Worry is not an action – seek refuge with Al-Anon

man worrying sqWhen I think of my experience with having loved ones in addiction, I think of all the worry.  Torment.  Suffering.
Disturbing thoughts of what ifs…Fretful.
Fearful.  Worry to the extreme – anxiety disorder.

Doesn’t sound very appealing yet when afflicted, it’s as friendly as your favorite cat, as comfortable as your old worn shoes and as familiar as grandma’s house.  That’s my experience.

Worry has been equated as the hamster’s incessant running on the spin wheel in our minds; going nowhere but seemingly expending energy and being exhausted because of it. Naturally, there are physical symptoms associated with constant worry:  rapid heartbeat, sweating, interrupted sleep, inability to concentrate, skin lesions, and weight gain or weight loss to name a few.

In Al-Anon, I learned recovery combats worry.  I learned that worry is not action in spite of all the energy expended on it.  Worry helps no one and if anything, hurts myself. Recovery is action and the first step was to accept that I’m powerless of alcohol.

Here Comes the Judge!

One day I was driving my son to a local transit station. I quickly glanced his way to see if he was wearing his seat belt.  The last time I was driving him he did not have his seat belt on and I realized it just when a police officer pulled up next to us. This panicked me and bothered me to no end.  I don’t want any trouble.  At the time he was 28 years old, by the way. Now he has acquired a ginormous tattoo that runs from his shoulder to his wrist on one arm. I’m struggling to accept it.  I kept seeing it in my periphery. Soon I noticed other things around me. At an intersection, the car just next to me pulled up to the stop light. Here was a young driver who had all the earmarks of a young drug dealer. There were several young people at the corner gas station, loitering; they too looked suspect to me – did I just see them nod to that drug dealer driver? And the car on my right, the driver also had a very noticeable tattoo… Somewhere there was loud music BOOM BOOM BOOMING… Everywhere around me were suspicious people, my son’s age, in cars, on sidewalks, parking lots and bus stations, all seemingly with no direction or purpose. It was like the ZOMBIES had all come out in the afternoon. This is an area I drive daily and I never noticed this before!

What just happened here? I was uneasy about his tattoo. Why? One word: Judgment. I was placing judgment on him AND would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned about how people would judge me! So, as sneaky as my EGO can be, I involuntarily defaulted to my old defects of character – placing judgment on those around me – they looked suspicious! This tactic used to work good when I did not want to take a good look at myself. Let’s face it. If I put the focus on them, I don’t see where there is any “me” in the equation. This time, however, I CAUGHT ME!

I never know when I’m going to resort to old habits where character defects surface, but I am able to recognize what I’m doing and stop it soon after. Before recovery in the Al-Anon Family Group I would not have considered my viewpoint the problem. I sometimes look forward to finding another thing I’m wrong at because it’s so humbling! What a gift!

A New Year, A New Approach Towards Your Child’s Chemical Dependency

Photo of Ricki TownsendFor parents whose children struggle with substance abuse, the New Year gives us an opportunity to start fresh and welcome new, healthier attitudes or behaviors. But what happens if we find ourselves clenching grief or loss so tightly that we cannot embrace happiness or joy? Ricki Townsend, a Parent Pathway “Expert,” grief counselor and interventionist, shares some ideas about letting go of grief.

“We have dreams and hopes for our children as they grow and discover life. Then one day we wake up to find they have become involved in the battle of addiction. And so our life as we hoped it would be has changed. As parents, we may find we have trouble sleeping, we may start to have health issues, we may find ourselves crying or even angry over the simplest of things. Please look at the possibility that you are grieving the loss of your child as you knew him or her.

Grief and loss are naturally interwoven into addiction. Grief is different for each one of us, but please don’t discount it. We put so much energy into getting back our child that we often forget about ourselves. Here are some ways to deal with your grief:

  • If you acknowledge that you are grieving, I invite you to work through the grieving process with a  counselor who will help you understand your losses and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.
  • Grief can feel suffocating. A good exercise to release grief is to take a very deep breath, hold it      tightly and then release it slowly. You will feel your body calm down. It is also therapeutic to cry in the shower or yell in the car or smash pillows  with a tennis racquet—anything physical to vent your sorrow, your anger, your disappointment.
  • You might also want to write a  letter to whatever is running your life—addiciton, fear, remorse—and tell  it that you are taking back your life.  You can also write down your sorrows and regrets and burn them in a fireplace or “burning bowl.” The important thing is to symbolically purge your “if only’s” so that you can free yourself to live more in the moment.
  • There are also some great books  that will help support recovery. Check out The
    Grief Recovery Handbook
    by John W. James and Russell Friedman or The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson.

It is up to each of us to ‘push the clouds away’ in order to be happy. Don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t become a victim—you have the power to reclaim your serenity.  If you have questions about grief or any other substance abuse issues, please feel free to send me your questions.  Best wishes for a healthy New Year.”

Ricki Townsend, NAADAC, interventionist and family counselor

The Squirrel in my Brain and Teen Addiction

The squirrel in my brain can be prodded into action by many triggers:  an unreturned phone call from my son, a mammogram that calls for additional imaging, even a sideways glance from my husband.  What’s happening?   How bad is it?  What do I need to do to make it better? What do we do if this happens, or if that happens…or…or….or.  The squirrel in my brain races on.

But now, thanks to the guerilla training I got in the war zone of addiction, I’m learning to redirect myself when my mind spirals into unnecessary worry.  In The Power of Now*, Eckhart Tolle explains how we can choose to create our own pain, or conversely, can manifest our ability to live pain-free by living fully in the present.

When I find myself worrying, I am learning to take note of what  I know to be true at that exact moment. For example, I know that I am a concerned mom, but I do not know for a fact that my son is in trouble.  The mere speculation that he might be in trouble creates the pain that I feel.  And at the end of the day, that speculation is purposeless.  My incessant fretting about my son had no impact whatsoever on his behavior and choices—good or bad.  Maybe he is in trouble, maybe not—but I guarantee that the sleep I lost did not impact the outcome in any way.

I’ve cloistered myself away in a dark place so many times while my son was frolicking with sober friends, playing disc golf in the sunshine.  Yes, there were times when my worst fears came true, but they would have come true whether I anguished over them or not.

So here is the gift I got from addiction:  I understand that worry is a choice.  When I permit the marauder squirrel to tear through my brain, I blind myself to the joy and beauty around me at this moment.  I miss out on the laughter, the friendship, and the little joys in life.  Understanding that I don’t call the shots and relinquishing my fictitious grasp on outcomes saves me from the bottomless pit of fear and rumination.

Straw into gold

I’ve been reading a book called Sacred Moments, Daily Meditations on the Virtues.  The back of the book describes it better than I can: “The virtues such as honesty, generosity, love, discernment and trust dwell inside all of us. They are our link with the Divine, the best parts of our character and the highest qualities of our humanity..The virtues help us to know who we are and what we can be.”

This book was given to me by a mom student in the anatomy class I took recently.  She mentioned to the class that her young son had been killed several years ago by a drunk driver while riding his bike home from a Little League game.

This ethereal mom walked a walk of tremendous grace, compassion and humanity.  There was not a bitter bone in her body over her son’s loss; instead, she continues to dedicate her energy to transforming sorrow into strength, pain into growth, fear into trust.  She teaches a Virtues class every six months to introduce the concepts to our community, but she lives and breathes the virtues with every step.

When I am tempted to throw a Pity Party for the missteps and damage done along the way (courtesy of drugs and alcohol), I will reflect on this brave mom, do my best to follow in her footsteps, and spin straw into gold.