The scarlet letter – fighting the stigma of addiction

Letter A Tin LettersWhen I first really “got it” that my son was addicted to opiates, I was saddened, shocked, terrified and embarrassed. Somehow, it felt like I was responsible, that I had failed as a parent, that I had led my child astray. I felt like I was wearing the scarlet letter “A” for all the world to see. I expected to start bleeding spontaneously from my heart, my hands. If I had known then what I know now, the isolation would have vaporized and I would have felt in good company. My neighborhood is no different than the rest of the nation, where 20% of high school kids abuse prescription meds, according to a recent CDC study. Helloooo, neighbor! Is that loud teenage cursing coming from your house or mine?

Those feelings abated as I became more educated. For those who insist that addiction/alcoholism is a disease of character, I refer to babies who are born addicted… what juvenile delinquents they are and how they demonstrate a stunning lack of willpower and character. That generally turns the conversation in a different direction.

I know that most people don’t know what I know about addiction/alcoholism:  that it was defined as a disease more than 50 years ago; that brain imaging reveals the misfiring parts of the addict’s brain; that nutritional approaches show great promise for recovery. I try to share that knowledge with others because wisdom is key to recovery for parents and their beloved children.

As addiction becomes more understood and more public, we have an opportunity to support the other moms who are joining our ranks in fear, despair and sorrow. Together, we create a life brigade of experience, strength and hope.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Do you love fully in the moment?

Spiritual Relief from the Anguish of loving an addict/alcoholic son or daughter

I attended a 2 day taping of Echart Tolle TV in Mill Valley. It was like a spiritual injection and renewal of positive inner thinking very similar to my Al-Anon Program of recovery. Interestingly, someone asked Eckart how to reconcile a perceived conflict they had from his spiritual teachings (the power within us) to the concept of a “Higher Power.” That God, which they came to understand through their own 12-Step Program recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous, seemed to be something bigger, higher and outside of them – “up there somewhere.” His response was perfect: the term “Higher Power” is just a language pointer. We have no language that adequately defines this. “Try using INNER POWER instead,” he suggested.

It got me to thinking about my own attempt to get my mind around the Higher Power concept. Al-Anon’s 12- Steps, adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, were simply something on poster boards to alert me that my sons would need to pay attention to that so they could get better. I never considered that it would have anything to do with me. Once I realized my part in the illness – the family disease of drug and alcohol addiction, I wanted relief from the anguish and worry. I slowly realized it would take work. I made the decision to obtain a sponsor and I had to work my own 12-Step program of recovery. Until I accepted where I was, I disregarded the concept of turning anything over to a power greater than myself. Why do I need to bother with any of this? I’m not the one with the problem!

The 12-step recovery program through Al-Anon family groups was exactly what I needed. I slowly became willing and embraced the necessary steps for a spiritual awakening. I was using “pointers” in the language of recovery. I heard and casually picked up the term, Higher Power, which came from the people in the program, not the program itself. There are several references in the steps that point to a Power, greater than ourselves and to a God, as we understood Him, the latter was up to me to figure out. There is no wrong way. It was evident Echart made no judgment. He simply offered an alternative language to the term “Higher Power” which to him is “Inner Power.” It is faith that this Power, whatever words you use to describe, that restores us to sanity.

Do you want to be happy? Then go right ahead!

Photo of three women with smiles.Have you ever caught yourself whining and complaining about them…you know who they are – the ones whose drug and alcohol use is bothering you. The friends of your loved one who just don’t understand or will encourage further destructive behavior. Or relatives & friends who contact you to lay down judgment, offer advice or expect you to do something. This can fuel your bad opinion of yourself already, no? Honestly, the list goes on and on and the scenarios are as varied as DNA. But the whining and complaining remains constant. It’s been described as the “his disease” – he won’t do this and he does that and he said this and he said that. If he’d just stop, get a job; get up in the morning…on and on. I too, fall victim to this self-deprecating behavior. Being a member of the Al-Anon Family Groups, obtaining a sponsor and working the steps has helped me see that the effort and energy spent on THEM, to no avail, might better be served helping me. And I hear it in many ways repeatedly:

  • Stay in your hula hoop
  • Mind your own business
  • Keep the focus on yourself
  • Would you rather be happy or right?
  • Are you seeing the disease or the person?
  • Forgive or relive
  • Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.
  • You can be happy or you can be miserable, same work.

And a new one to my favorite collection:

  • Do you want to be happy? Then go right ahead!


Why do addicts and alcoholics want to leave rehab?

The lips are moving - watch the behavior!About three weeks into rehab, your loved ones may want to leave.  That’s because the numbness of substance abuse has worn off, and they are looking at their lives through less bleary eyes, relatively speaking. And they don’t like what they see, so they blame it all on the rehab (or on you). But their recovery is a work in progress, and you need to be shooting for the gold standard of a 90-day stay in rehab, where the statistics for sustained sobriety are in their favor. So steel yourself to hear some of these reasons for wanting to leave rehab:

  • The people here are losers.
  • My roommates are much worse off than me.
  • I can fix myself without this place.
  • I wasn’t serious before but now I am.
  • I really wasn’t that bad off.
  • The rehab just wants your money.
  • I’m wasting my time here; I need to get back to school/work/life.
  • I don’t like the people here.
  • The people here don’t like me.
  • We don’t do anything here.
  • The counselors are mean/stupid/don’t understand me.
  • The beds are uncomfortable.
  • It’s too much work.
  • It’s not enough work.
  • I wasn’t that bad off before…Really!
  • I know what I need to do now.
  • I don’t like that God stuff in the 12 steps.
  • AA is for losers.
  • Rehab is for weak people, so I don’t need it.
  • The food sucks.

This is just a sampling of the reasons your loved one may toss your way. Forewarned is fore-armed!  So what should you say when you hear one of these complaints? You could say “Oh” or  “Hmmm.” You could say, “I’m sure you can work it out with your counselor.”  You might say, “We will support you in recovery, and this is the place where we will support you.”  You could say, “I love you, and this is the place where you can get healthy.” You could say “No,” which is a complete sentence all by itself.

Whatever you do, don’t help them leave. Don’t pick them up, drive them to their old home or drive them to your home. Circle the wagons with your family, and agree that you all need to stay the course. Don’t offer any alternatives to rehab, or they’ll be back at Square One.  And so will you.

Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t say it mean

mom daughter arguing trust distrust angerThere’s a saying that has been very helpful along my journey – ‘Say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean’.  Many times the first part ‘say what you mean’ is the easiest.  I can often express what I mean to say, even in the heat of the moment when I’m upset or stressed.  The second part ‘mean what you say’ is where the challenge starts for me.   ‘Mean what you say’ is where you hold your loved one accountable to the consequences of their actions.  Those consequences are the very thing that helps the addict to seek recovery.  Yet when your child is in a situation that you find to be dangerous or uncomfortable it is hard to stick to what you said you would not do.  Every situation is different but to say one thing and do another is mixed messages and keeps the bad behavior reinforced in many instances.

Getting a call that your loved one has relapsed, been hurt or worse, this is the call we parents dread when we have said coming home is not an option.  I have learned so much through these experiences about how the most loving thing you can do is stick to what you said.  At one point I had told my daughter I would not allow her to come home if she relapsed and yet when she had no where to go, I caved and let her come home.  Two days later she crashed her car while seriously intoxicated.  I had been gently coached by a parent who had been through this when I told him that I let her come home.  He said, “Your very actions to rescue your daughter from the consequence of her action may very well kill her one day”.  While this seemed harsh at the time – it was 2 days before the accident.  His words haunted me, he was so right.  I did not hold her accountable due to my fears.  I became very resolved from that moment on to ‘Say what I mean, mean what I say and don’t say it mean’.  When I stuck to the boundaries and accountability she began to take responsibility for her action and the consequences helped her realize the gravity of her decisions.   It has made all the difference in her recovery and mine.

The rights of parents to an addict or alcoholic-free home – do you really know?

My 3 SunzThis is an “encore” post from My3Sunz

You have made a decision to “kick your kid out of the house.” Reasons vary, but the common deominator for some parents with children (over the age of 18) whose addicted or alcoholic children may sound familiar

  • She’s capable of working, but always comes up with excuses. I can’t afford her to stay without helping with food or other expenses – that doesn’t seem to be in her game plan.
  • He’s not interested in rehab, insists he does not have a problem and therefore continues to do nothing. I feel like I’m helping him stay in his disease
  • She does not help with the daily chores, laundry, cleaning, yard work and such. She somehow finds energy to go “out” at odd hours and the erratic comings and goings just adds to my sleepless nights and worrisome days.
  • When he uses alcohol or drugs, I’m on guard, unable to roam freely in my home for fear of sudden outburst or threats.
  • He sleeps most of the day and when he finally awakes; he’ll sloth around and often blames me for his situation in life. This has been very stressful as I work at home.
  • She’s not freeloading – she’s stealing. I’m a prisoner of my own home, unable to leave, go on vacation, and meet with friends. It’s all because I fear she will steal from me, damage the home or bring strangers in.

So you finally decide that, no matter what, this time you are going to insist he or she leave. You set a target date. You give them options such as rehab, a relative, a wilderness program. You are willing to help halfway, yet it seems like you are negotiating with a wall. You have been collecting “home goods” so they will be outfitted when the time comes. This time you are not going to give into the fears that have dominated your mind about what they do or how they will survive without your help. You’ve found the courage to do it and THEN the time comes and you realize he or she won’t leave! Not only that, he or she insists they have every right to be there and will not budge. All of a sudden, they seem to know the law better than you! But wait, this is your house, your property! Surely you have every right to decide who stays or not…but do you?

Charles Rubin, in his book, Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You, suggests that you not do this on your own.  I’ve heard a parent share that when she called the police, they informed her if her son has lived in her home for seven  consecutive days, then he is considered a tenant.  She would have to start eviction procedures like a landlord.  This could take a minimum of 30 days.  I’ve heard from a couple who literally sold their home and moved into a 1-bedroom apartment to get away from their 24 year old daughter - “she” was not invited to move with them.  Another family son’s arrest gave them a window of opportunity.  They moved and did not let him know their new address. These sound like drastic measures, but maybe they are normal responses
to drastic circumstances. What has been your experience with evicting your own child out of your home?

Raising the bottom when your child is an addict or alcohold

spiral of addictionOur kids can be relentless when they are in active addiction.  They want, they need, they demand, they take, they terrify us with their unpredictable behavior. Often, we say “Yes” out of fear.  We say “Yes, you can live here” even though we know we don’t want them in our homes while they are using or drinking. The alternative, the street, seems unacceptably dangerous.

The reality is that our addict children can be very resourceful. They may not end up sleeping in the street; instead, they couch surf or sleep in the Hotel Honda.  And yes–sometimes they end up in horrible circumstances with predators who take advantage of their addiction.

The real hope is that the prospect of actually ending up on the streets may give them an incentive to get sober. When we say “No” out of love, we can give them a jump start down the road to recovery.

My son told me that he pulled out of his death spiral relapse  because he did not want to be homeless. He did not want to lose his family, who loves him dearly. He did not want to be destitute. We essentially raised the bottom by requiring sobriety in order for us to support him in any way, shape or form. We forced the issue, with sober results–one day at a time.  There are no promises, of course, but what could have happened if he waited to hit his own bottom instead of the one we created by saying “No” instead of “Yes?” To that, I say, “Bottoms up!”

Anger management -What can I control to keep my anger at bay?

1179314_28920035 angry boyI have learned that anger is an emotion I do get, but it is manageable.  It shows up for me with the alcohol/addiction behaviors.   I’m sure it’s disguised as FEAR in many cases.   It’s when I allow it to consume or take over how I behave that concerns me.  Then anger becomes scary and uncontrollable.  It becomes the Driver of a vehicle I have no name for and don’t like the ride very much.  Like the scary roller coaster!  You see it coming, you FEEL IT, and slowly, creaky, machinery, pulleys, cranks, mountains, lost horizon, GRAVITY, FORCE, SPEED – AHHHHHHH!

I notice that many times I get angry over people.  People who do things that…people who tell me what I …people who make me feel …. People who embarrass me…people whothere it is!  People, who I can’t control.  But, as in everything, once I start to study myself, there are things I do have a part in or “control of.”

This requires me to do something.  State the facts, face the fear, or be inconvenienced!  This is uncomfortable for me to do.  Being able to say:  “That won’t work for me” or “I’m not OK with this going on, can we discuss it?” Setting a boundary so that I’m not putting myself in a position to feel anger or fear also works.   Such are the examples of taking action and managing my anger.

I don’t have to pay for pain at the Amusement Park for rides I don’t enjoy.  But if I do, thinking it would be fun at the time, not realizing the intensity or fear factor later on, I get through it, right?  I’m OK because my Higher Power is there and it too shall pass.

Dancing with a gorilla I did not see – another Look at Co-dependency

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.