As a mother whose young one struggled, it became easy to compromise on limits previously set. Not really sure why he was struggling years later he admitted he might have a drug problem. But he struggled, this was crystal clear. It made sense to rearrange my time for him. He just wasn’t capable! Soon, I was compromising on other areas of my life. Then other matters important to me would be postponed. Leisure time, family time and even self-care had to be set aside so that I could focus on him and the issues that were increasing in intensity I took on more responsibility and heavier burdens for the convenience of the addict. At some point, there grew situations that I began to accept, things that before, would never have been allowed. An addict will steal your jewelry, lie about it, and then help you look for it. Addiction showed up at the door with Insanity in tow.
Unknowing my love could not save my loved ones, I tried many things. Tired and worn out because of the roles I held: chauffeur cook, life coach, detective, night watchman, banker, nurse, psychologist and lawyer, to name some, I began to question my parental ability. This was because I believed I had control over what he did.
My part in the mother-addict-child dynamic played out for another few years. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, knowing the result…and doing it anyway!
Oddly, it was when I could not do it anymore that I sought out help for my situation…HELP ME HELP HIM was my plea. It never occurred to me that maybe I had a problem too. Even though my actions and feelings could be labeled INSANE, I clearly could justify it. I later learned this is classic, fear-based controlling behavior symptomatic in co-dependent relationships. AKA family disease. Knock Knock.
There are many forms of loss – employment, illness, relocation, and death. Down to the bone marrow type sadness seem so obvious when a loved one dies. For a long while I did not understand the emotions I felt – why did I always end up crying at counseling sessions? “She is grieving for her son,” a licensed family counselor explained to my husband. I was indignant! – After all, no one has died! I expected her to direct us on how to fix this problem. I continued to deny that I was powerless over my young son’s lives. I was certain my feelings of anxiety, sadness and despair could be eliminated once their problems were corrected. This same professional told us to go to an Al-Anon meeting and that local schedules were at the front desk. I barked back, “I do not have a problem! Why would I need to go to a support group”? I didn’t know what Al-Anon was, but I was certain it did not have anything that would help me. It took another 2 years after this professional encounter for the progression of the disease to send me to my knees. My sponsor says “if you think you know everything, then you are not willing to learn.” That’s exactly what was happening back then. I thought I had the answers and knew what needed to happen. But, that said, things did not get better, they got worse. Eventually I came to a place where I knew I could not do this anymore – in desperation, I surrendered! I sought help and became willing to keep an open mind about the help available to me.
I accept that bereavement is a real emotion and I stopped trying to outsmart it or deny it. Yes, my loved ones are living, but I was grieving the loss of my hopes and dreams for them. I was sad they were unable to pull themselves out of “it” with ease and simplicity. I wished they did not suffer and I wished I could save them. It was insanity to think I could cure it and deny how I really felt. I was overwhelmed with sadness and grieved about the way I might have behaved differently knowing better. Truth is I did not know much about addiction. Once I understood the complexity of this disease, I had to let go of that too. When you know better, you do better. Surrendering and letting go of the past helped me move into the present with a new sense of hope, a gain from the senseless loss.
My son returned to prison for another parole violation. This is no surprise really; this State holds the nation’s highest recidivism rate. Substance-involved people have a hard time following rules and it is this reason most offenders go back to prison. According to the Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism – The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons, April 2011 report, it’s not the commonly held belief that a new crime was committed. Parole requirements that often get broken are not complying with certain technical requirements and punishment is often a short term prison re-sentence.
I’m reminded of when he was in public school. Seemingly simple rules and class requirements were not so easy for him. He’d receive failing grades for not turning in homework and “detention” for not following the rules. With a private instructor, he’d succeed and demonstrate above average competency. Progression. My son’s disease has kept him in a revolving door for a long time.
I’m told addiction is an inside job and that’s understandable to me. I’m told recovery will be an inside job too and I hope my son is able to. One thing is certain, I’m not able to help him in the traditional sense. I have read, listened to and talked to many recovering addicts. Some have been in similar situations like my son. They overcame and turned their lives around. Their mothers were not part of their recovery story but for honorable mention if they had stopped their financial support and rescuing behavior. I’ve seen miracles and know that it is possible. This is the hope that a mother holds onto. There’s another kind of hope I found; it’s the hope that I can accept my son for who he is and where he is and still find joy and happiness in my life. He has a revolving door, not me. I don’t have to go in and out of it anymore.
Researchers recently re-visited the phenomena that we do not see everything that is in plain sight. A new study shows that given a specific task to focus on, people can filter the world around them so aggressively that it literally shapes what they see. This phenomenon has a name: inattentional blindness. The recent story, titled “Why even radiologist can miss a gorilla hiding in plain sight” was aired on NPR radio and I found it fascinating and relative to co-dependency.
I related to the study as it applied to my own life at a time when obsession and tunnel vision regarding my son’s behavior was a 24/7 focus. I saw concerning problems, but I did not see alcoholism. I’d see where I could help, but I did not see it as getting in their way. When I ran through the “tomorrows” and the “to-do’s” for them, I did not see my control. Each time they told me a lie I did not see their contrary behavior. When I lay awake at night fearing the worse, I did not see my powerlessness.
I was alert, focused; giving it all my waking thoughts, yet there was a gorilla in plain sight that I did not see. And I was dancing with the gorilla. It’s not an indicator of weakness or a matter of intelligence. It’s just the way my brain framed the problems that addiction created. I believed what I saw to be true.
In recovery I’m learning to see things differently and at best, accept that what I see may not be the truth. I’m learning to be aware that there may be something more to a situation than what I see. I’m learning to put on my Al-Anon glasses and recognize the gorilla is asking for a dance.
I’m getting fed up with news magazines and talk show hosts poking fun at people with health concerns and chronic diseases, like addiction. How many more times are we going to be subject to Lindsey Lohan jokes and ridicule? Wasn’t the Charlie Sheen exhibition sad enough? You don’t see anyone laughing at Michael J. Fox’s stuttering or shakes – no! But his disease comes with society compassion and understanding. Addiction is a disease too but the general popular opinion has not been as caring.
I get frustrated with people whose ignorance about addiction and recovery causes them to judge, jury and sentence others who struggle. People who don’t believe in the power of recovery and the ability to overcome and change are often the loudest opponent for any support or reform. People who are so stringent in their own beliefs, they are unwilling to change themselves.
Then I remember my humble beginnings. I once held beliefs and opinions that had no sound basis. I judged others too. The difference between then and now is my own experience with adversity and a desire to stop being fed up. I made a decision to change – and if the people around me had tried to force solutions and answers down my throat I would have resisted to the end. I’m reminded that I can only share my experience, and let people have a right to their own opinion. I have to stop taking it personally and Let Go and Let God.
I’m so proud that today’s parents, when concerned about their child’s substance abuse, have courage to take action and start early intervention. I don’t know if I could have done this myself given the strong sense of denial I was in. But then again, the drug epidemic we have today was not publicized when my kids were in their teens. Had there been a documentary like Pathway to Prevention’s Collision Course, Teen Addiction Epidemic, maybe I would have been paying attention more.
I recently heard some heartfelt testimonials at a fundraiser event for an adolescent treatment center. To witness recovery through individual achievements as was presented at the event was truly miraculous. How wonderful this community has options for parents who seek help for their children and family. And the bright future for these young people brought tears to my eyes.
Recovery takes dedicated team work and money to support its professionals, operating and infrastructure costs to that end. Generous donations, sponsors and private funding as well as volunteers in service by individuals continue to be the backbone of many non-profits. Now that we have more places that offer treatment, how much is this going to cost? Parents are often shocked at the costs associated with recovery treatment. As noted by Dad on Fire, in his blog post “Insurance Woes for Addiction treatment”, it seems “there isn’t a shortage of treatment centers but a shortage of dollars to provide for the care.”
One thing is certain: left untreated, addiction costs are far more costly and damaging than any prevention measure. Every little bit we can do on education, prevention and treatment will make a difference, because early intervention really does help.
In many cultures, mother and child are seen as forever linked by a string that binds them through eternity, a perpetual umbilical cord of sorts. As a mother, I know that heart connection with my son. I feel his joys and sorrows, I sense his fears. I take pride in his accomplishments. I have hopes for his happiness and fulfillment. As the parent of a chemically dependent child (in recovery at this moment, but chemically dependent for life), I am pulled in the direction of doing his worrying for him. I excel at that, I might add.
These vicarious expressions of joy and concern are natural and healthy, if kept in check. But becoming all-consumed with my son’s affairs is dangerous, and it is telling. While I may delude myself into believing that I can control or cure his addiction, the reality is that I am not that powerful. I didn’t make him an addict, and I can’t break him of his addiction. Obsessing over my son also reveals my lack of faith in his ability to create his own destiny. It reveals my lack of faith in power greater than him or me.
So what’s a mother to do with the pressing urge to manage and obsess over her child? Another parent gently reminded me that, “Before your child was in your hands, he was in God’s hands.” With this wisdom in mind, I can imagine my son as a kite soaring freely through the sky while I hold tightly to the string. And that imagination can set us both free.
As a new mother, I was amazed and in awe of the miracle of life. I was humbled to be sent home from the hospital with no instructions or permits – carrying my infant son in my arms. Turns out no one got instructions –parenthood is partly innate and part of a bigger community. As they grew older, I did not like seeing my child hurt, struggle, or even lose at basketball tryouts. However, I endured seeing those things happen, knowing in part, these were all necessary events that build character and strength. With a disease like addiction, it was a different story. This was an unnecessary event – a preventable occurrence in many instances and I spent years trying to bring back time. If only I could have a do-over.
The curious dynamic of addiction and co-dependency is like motherhood on steroids. Side effects of steroids are very serious. I’m grateful for the support groups and professional help that were available to me. Like the trip from the hospital, there is no handbook or chapter on how to handle addiction in a love one. But there are communities of many who have gone through similar circumstances. They have discovered ways for healthy coping, tools to effectively support their loved ones while still keeping a boundary that protects all parties involved. No one told me I’d get over it…I was shown that I could live life fully, be the best mother I can be and embrace life on life’s terms each day I’m part of. Recovery from the family disease is partly innate and part of a bigger community. For more information on resources for parents, click here.
It’s been said when a child is born, so is a mother. There’s no denying the special bond between mother and child and it’s that very bond that contributes to unhealthy parenting in extreme circumstances. Drug & alcohol addiction of a child, at any age, is an extreme circumstance. Even Betty Ford, the pioneer in helping America understand alcoholism, did not want to accept her son’s alcoholism when he announced his concern to her. In his short eulogy, he recalled her shaking her head emphatically saying “no, you can’t be that!” – He said (and I’m paraphrasing) “mom, you of all people should know that this can happen to anyone…you have got to get out of denial! You are the poster child of alcohol and addiction rehabilitation… you are … Betty Ford!!” Is it any wonder that mothers of addicts have a struggle unique from this parent/child bond?