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.
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!
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.
I am affected by someone else’s drug addiction. Addiction and alcoholism was not a part of my life growing up. It happened to other families and far away. I did not know anything about 12-Step programs such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and certainly not anything about Al-Anon or Nar-Anon and the “family disease”. Then, when my sons reached late teens, I searched for help because my attempts to control, diffuse, deflect, manage, assist, help or buy a temporary fix to their risky behavior was failing miserably. My life was getting out of control the more I tried to control them. I thought I was researching a solution to fix their problem and in so doing, I discovered I had a problem too. I was obsessed with what they were doing. This obsession has a name: co-dependency. So the help that I sought turned out to be a life-rope for me too.
In a 12-Step program that helps those who have been affected by someone else’s drinking, it is suggested you learn as much as you can about the disease. In so doing, I learned the hard reality: Alcoholism and addiction, if untreated, will lead to incarceration or death. I knew addiction was a serious problem but I didn’t know the full story. I also did not know what to do or how to help. I did not realize it was a disease. Using conventional wisdom, my mothering tendencies were not helping and in some cases were actually harming them. This kind of relationship has a name: Family disease.
The Al-Anon Family Groups taught me how to be a loving mother and still enjoy life. I learned that I did not cause the disease, could not control the disease or cure it. I continue to gain tools to help me overcome the devastating effects of this family disease. This could only happen with the experience and kindness of others who have gone before me and for this I am thankful.
She had a breakdown; her therapist said it was a “spiritual awakening”. Brené Brown, a qualitative researcher, offers an insightful take on what normal healthy grounded wholehearted people possess in terms of character traits. Her light-hearted short presentation on vulnerability and shame from years of her research is worth viewing. What’s interesting to me is her explanation that we cannot mask certain emotions. If we try to mask shame, then we also numb joy. We medicate, spend, overeat, overwork, and/or control our way through discomfort; numbing all faucets of the full emotional spectrum.
At the end of Brown’s video, one of many golden nuggets I appreciated: as parents our job is to understand our children are born hard wired for struggle and imperfection. We all are. Our role is to show them they are not defined by this, they are worthy of love and belonging. Yet we have to believe these concepts ourselves first.
My experience of hitting bottom, my own breakdown, was a necessary predecessor to my spiritual awakening. Al-Anon and working the 12-Steps has helped me get a better grip on ME; it seems I wasn’t very good at anything once the family disease took hold and I started NUMBING the emotions, especially shame and vulnerability. When a child was born, so was a mother. I have my life to work on this and it’s not too late. There is hope. Joy. Sadness. Fear. The emotional spectrum is no longer something I try to filter because I’ll deny the daily miracles.
I did not come to the rooms of the Al-Anon Family Group to get what I got. That said, what I got was so much more that what I expected. And what I expected I never got! In fact, many times I find that the contradictions, counter-intuitive measures, completely unexpected outcomes are points of humility which reveal how the universe (Higher Power) is more complex than my simple thinking. Things I use to say I don’t say anymore. I recall a time I said “well, at least there are no grandchildren involved!” Shortly thereafter my son’s girlfriend announced she was pregnant. Wrong again! (Truth is today there are no grandchildren, but this too may pass!) Another time I thought, “at least my youngest son hasn’t substance abused.” Wrong again.
I have learned to remove (or use very cautiously) some words from my vocabulary: NEVER, ALWAYS, MUST, IF ONLY, and WHAT IF, to name a few. I have replaced the old adage: “no news is good news” to “no news is no news”. This reminds me that when I make assumptions based on non-truths, I’m in trouble. Though the saying “its 5 o’clock somewhere” rings some truth to it, if it’s not 5 o’clock where I am, then I don’t need to think about it somewhere else! Seems simple enough, but this type of thinking is very difficult to break. With no news right now I stay in the moment and accept that bad news, good news, world news, whatever news may be occurring, is not for me to dwell on. Put simply, until presented with news of any kind, I can live today, in this moment, and not react to upcoming unknowns out there that I have not yet heard about. Notice I did not mention any problem of obsessing with what wonderful experience and good news story is waiting to unfold? I’m hard wired for doom & gloom. By saying “no news is good news” I was fooling myself into believing this as true. It’s a form of denial and self imposed set-up for a possible disappointment!
A child’s addiction or alcoholism ushers in a distressing landscape lacking in directional signs. Once I wrapped my mind around the fact that we had a very serious problem, what was my next step? And if I take that step, will it have the desired results? If I do “A,” will my son do “B” or “C” or perhaps “X?” If I tell my son that our home is now a sober home, will he straighten up or will he run away? If I take him to rehab, will it be the right one for him? And of course the biggest question lurking in my mind was “Will he get and stay sober?” And how do I talk to him about those things, anyway? Do I resort to my ineffective pleading (a behavior I unwittingly adopted in a vain attempt to avoid confrontation). Alternatively, do I give him an ultimatum? My brain was twisted in an endless loop of high alert, trying to orchestrate the best possible permutation of answers to my incessant questions.
Somewhere along the way a light bulb came on: if my son is the one who has to decide to get and stay sober, all my ruminations were in vain because I was powerless to change him. And that–not coincidentally– is the first step in both Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous: we admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Initially, I had looked at my child as the one who was powerless over alcohol. I came to realize that I also was powerless over alcohol. That epiphany was my first step towards giving him back his life and reclaiming my own. I can’t change him; I can only change myself…and I have changed the way I think.
When my son was younger and I was ignorant about addiction, I was in disbelief he’d be stealing and shocked at the lies. Then I was terrified he’d be arrested or worse. I truly felt I had the power to rescue, if he’d just listen and do what I told him to do. I could not understand why he would not! He’d say he was, he’d say all the right things, but I learned that this was a ploy to get me off his back. His addiction was in charge. Sometimes he meant what he said, but an addict is untrustworthy and he’d end up doing something different. The reality for me about the seriousness of the situation was when I finally understood addiction is a disease and it’s progressive in nature. This explained why no matter what I did, things got worse. There was no way I could keep subsidizing his addiction, he was pouring through money – mine and then others. Each time I thought I’d solve a problem of his, 10 more appeared. The madness seemed never ending. There are no words to describe feeling helpless and desperate. Eventually I found my own 12 Step Recovery program; first through my medical insurance, then Nar-Anon and Al-Anon. This helped me get over the fear, guilt and agony of involvement. This is where I learned how to make reasonable decisions and let go of worry – where I found hope and to discover - it begins with me.
Whenever I ask myself why I still commit so much time to my own recovery program, recovery from the “FAMILY DISEASE” ( and It’s when I’m questioning the validity…”do I really need to go?”) – I need only think about what got me there in the first place. What got me there was my own thinking, and left to my own devices I can get myself triangulated in the most ridiculous situations. My involvement in my sons’ adult lives became too much for me. Here’s the irony: It’s hard enough taking care of me, but somehow I felt I could take care of them better than they could. (Never mind the high blood pressure, smoking, teeth grinding, and ulcers-on-skin problems I was enduring and ignoring) This is what co-dependency can look like left to my own devices. Fortunately, I’m getting better at rebounding after relapsing. Case in point: a while back, I got a phone call from a parole agent looking for my son who went MIA. I could have answered the question “have you heard from him?” with a complete sentence, “No.” (No is a complete sentence in my recovery program). Instead, I chose to have a conversation with the authority figure and before the end of it, I’m giving him my cell number (after he gave me his) – in case either of us got “word.” Why? Because I’m in control! NOT. Even as I write, I’m laughing out loud at myself – I clearly took someone else’s business and made it mine. A couple of weeks later my cell rings. Fortunately, I keyed in his name and seeing it I purposely did not to answer the phone! Another tool in recovery – I don’t have to answer every call that comes my way. This is the parole agent’s voice mail. “Hi, it’s me, Agent so and so, I’m just checking in.” Imagine that! NOW I HAVE A PAROLE AGENT CHECKING IN ON ME! Insanity. My part. I keep going to my Al-Anon Meetings.
When I follow the years of progression of the disease of addiction with my son, I sometimes see 10+ years having gone down the drain. Now, for a 50 odd year old, one year flies by at the speed of light and a whole lot can be accomplished! For a 20 year old, 10 years seems a lifetime. It’s a matter of perspective. However it feels, it’s still 10 years and sometimes I’m overtaken with despair.
I now realize that the 10+ years past is what it’s supposed to be; I don’t have any right to judge the usefulness of it. I sometimes question, when will he choose recovery? Will he ever? How can there be hope when over and over the same thing happens and it’s never good. This is the time I find myself going to a 12-Step Recovery Program, open to the public: AA or NA , where I can listen to others in recovery. It’s a good way to get re-energized. I’ve even found recordings on the internet to download of recovered persons who share their story. There is so much hope in their stories. By listening to them, I learn about the disease and it gives me another perspective to understand that recovery happens for each person differently, and on different time lines. Rarely do I hear someone speak on the help they got from their mom or dad. Sometimes there is an honorable mention to Al-Anon, where friends and family learned to stop enabling. The true source of help is inevitably something bigger than me or someone else – the unknown source, a Power, Greater than I – something I’ve come to welcome. I observe that some find recovery early, some get it years and years later. Sadly, some never get it. For the latter possibility, I’m reminded to be thankful each moment that I’m afforded an opportunity to see, hear or be in some sort of communication with my adult children. Years can fly by or the opposite. Sometimes days, and even hours can drag out for an eternity. Either way, if I stay in the presence of a Power, greater than myself, I can find serenity in the knowledge that when and if they ever decide, someone will be there to offer a new way to do life, with their own hope for the future. I can let go of my need to be overly involved and learn how to be a loving parent, unconditionally, when opportunities present themselves.