Ask the Expert: Acknowledging our powerlessness, we seek words of encouragement

Relapse and Rebound, RepurposeQUESTION: My son started drinking @ age 13. He is now 43 yrs old and has not found sobriety. He has been in & out of rehabs & hospitals for the past 30 yrs. He is dually diagnosed & fails to be compliant with his treatments. He is a chronic relapser. He has a history of harassing, threatening, intimidating, verbally abusing people & destroying other peoples personal or real estate properties.

It has been very difficult to watch his self-destruction. Over the years there is nothing that we haven’t tried to help him get better. We have had to accept our family’s powerlessness over this disease. We had to pursue our own recoveries in order to find some peace & serenity. We needed to let go of him to be happy again.

Many times we thought that he had hit his bottom, but the insidious disease keeps winning & taking him over, again & again.  As much as any parent doesn’t want a child to go to jail, I am hoping that he will be sentenced & kept there. I am hopeful that maybe this is his bottom and he might realize how alcohol has destroyed his life & driven people that love him away. I see this as the last resort for his healing, since nothing else has worked. If jailed for 6 months or more, will he be evaluated & offered rehabilitation? I try to keep up my hope, but if he doesn’t learn from this drastic lesson, what can we expect the next time? This is all very heartbreaking. All I can do is pray. Any words of encouragement, I would appreciate. Who is this stranger, my son?? I read this helpful website every day. I am grateful for it:) Thanks for being there!

prison for addicts Brad DeHavenEXPERT ANSWER: When you get on a plane, the instructions are to put the oxygen mask on yourself before your children. YOU need to survive and at some point if you assess that everything you are doing is too much and not enough at the same time, then you are enabling the continuance of the same behavior.

Your son’s bottom is different than yours. If everything else that you have tried has yielded this result, then perhaps prison will bring his bottom to him. All you can do is love him and pray because at some point he has to understand how destructive his behavior is to not only himself but those who love and care for him. Addiction travels many difficult paths and you are certainly living one.

Best to you and yours!

Bradley DeHaven

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT ANSWER: You hit this on the mark!! Your child is a stranger. This is a brain disease, and eventually our loved ones are no longer available to us. Their entire lives become addiction.

So many of us have loved ones missing to addiction. I am sorry that there is no magic wand; change must come from him.

You are doing well if you have made your boundaries strong and rigid. You will find kinship and wisdom at meetings like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. please go to a minimum of six meetings, and try different ones until you have found the right one. Celebrate Recovery support meetings are also available to you at most major churches.

I would also encourage working with an addiction therapist who can help you move forward with the pain you are carrying.

It sounds like your son has lost his belief in himself for the time. If you talk to him, let him know you love him and believe in him, but hate this disease and what it has done to him. It is possible to love your child while hating his addiction.

Ricki Townsend, Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1

How do I love thee? Learning to love and trust during uncertainty

Stack of love letters on rustic wooden planks backgroundI caught an Oprah Lifeclass series where an episode portrayed a young couple trying to recover their marriage after the woman had a fling with another man. “How will her husband ever regain his trust in her?” we ask. Dr. Phil’s no nonsense response was good. Trust is not about trusting the other person to do or not do something in the future. The real trust question is within you – Do I trust that I can handle anything that happens in the future? This whole show centered on thinking differently about trust and love stemming not from another, rather, from yourself.

Naturally, I did what I do; I turned the topic around to how it relates to ME and my children and the family disease of addiction. Before addiction’s collateral damage hit me, I took for granted trust in others and may have inadvertently used love as self-serving. When betrayal hit, it did not occur to me that the first thing to go was trust in me.

Back to the relationship in question. The scenario: A man loves a woman, she cheats on him and his trust in her is broken. He’s hurt and afraid to let his love for her hurt him again. My scenario: A mother has a child whose addiction has progressed to a point that he is no longer trustworthy. She’s hurt and afraid if she continues to love him, he might hurt her again.

I had to think about love, while I thought about trust. Love involves caring, respect, giving, commitment, kindness, tolerance and …trust. I used to think love was reciprocal. In reality, if I love myself enough, then it can be without attachment to someone else. It can be given away, unconditionally, because I am confident enough to not have an expectation or implied reciprocity. If I trust myself enough, I can love others and if they hurt, betray, disrespect, take, are unpredictable, are mean, intolerable and untrustworthy, I will cross that bridge when presented. I TRUST MYSELF ENOUGH TO KNOW I CAN CONTINUE ON, MAKE CHOICES, HAVE HAPPINESS, SET BOUNDARIES (AND KEEP THEM), AND EVEN SAY NO.  I love thee freely!

Waving Goodbye to our Beloved Addicts and Alcoholics

Photo of Ricki TownsendThis is a guest post from Ricki Townsend, Family Counselor and Board Certified interventionist.

When addiction comes into our lives, we are so unaware of what to do.

A crisis comes, we have a blowup, and then we kiss and things go good again, and then another blowup happens. Eventually, this is how we get used to living our lives, oblivious to the craziness it brings for all of us.

It’s the “I am so sorry”, the “I’ll do well”, then the craziness starts up again. Or the arrest, manipulation and lying. We want to believe this time will be different.

It is almost like we live our lives believing in an unconscious awareness that our lives depend on them. If they are happy, if they are doing the things that we know leads to a great life, then we can be happy.

After the blowup (or what I call the long sit down), they start to behave as we want. This “they” can be a husband, son, wife etc. It doesn’t’ matter, it all has a sameness to it.

When they start to “behave” then we feel we can breathe again. We go along with a false sense of security that they are now on the right track. In most cases it is a false belief. They will only last so long, because no one can pretend to be who they are not. The drug or alcohol behaviors literally start sneaking back in. Another crisis comes about because we start getting resentful that they are not doing what they promised they would do. What’s really happening is they are not able to take away our fear.

How do we handle this??

WE take back our life. We start our own recovery on a daily basis. The same thing we are asking of them, but this time we do it ourselves. We “do” things every day: Therapy, support groups, Al-Anon, even a couple of open AA meetings regularly. The latter shows us how recovery can happen. We put down strong boundaries. We finally ask them to leave or we leave the situation ourselves and take up residence somewhere else. All of these things we do respectfully.

We cannot control another human being into being what will make us happy. At a healthy level, addiction is like seeing someone drive away after a visit, lovingly waving goodbye at them…WE have no control over them making it home.

Just stay away from Grandma! Setting boundaries to help family members

This was a directive to my son (who paid no attention to my threats).  He was in his disease of addiction. He’d leave my house in a huff and go directly to Grandma’s house to swoon her over. Things changed drastically, and fast. It wasn’t long before I had grandma complaining to me about the lack of follow-through with my son. I would get the calls, inquires, concerns and complaints – as if I was the “Agent” representing and responsible to the community at large.  I took on this obligation because I believed it too, but  I was getting resentful. All I wished was that he’d stay away from Grandma because of how it was affecting me and the worry of her well being. Time would reveal the progressive nature of addiction and how the  family dynamics would get further strained – a symptom unique to addiction I subsequently learned.  Turns out I’m not the only co-dependent!

  • Parents: He’s got a drug problem and won’t go to rehab, we are learning more about addiction.
    • Grandma: He’s a good boy, “Once he starts working …”
  • Parents: We are not going to buy him another car, he isn’t insurable.
    • Grandma: I co-signed; I knew you would help with payments…
  • Parents: He cannot live in our house, he’s untrustworthy. We believe he has to experience discomfort before he will choose another way.
    • Grandma: He’s temporarily living in my home – we discussed my terms and it’s under control.
  • Parents: We’re concerned for grandma – she has opened her door and won’t listen to any reasoning!
    • Grandma: I can’t turn my back on him and THROW him to the streets!

After bringing Grandma to a few counseling sessions and I witnessed her sentiment I had once felt: Counseling is not giving me the answers I want to hear on how to fix him; therefore, this is a waste of time. I didn’t stop searching for answers. Desperation forced me to find further support and I landed in the Al-Anon Family Group. This is where I learned that I would have to employ boundaries in all my life’s affairs. I learned I could not control my son, his girlfriend, his grandmother, his landlord, his employer… any of THEM. I had choices, and being triangulated was something within my own ability to take control of if I wanted relief and serenity in my life. I found other grandparents in my support group that helped me understand their point of view. I learned compassion and understanding that this disease branches through the family tree, everyone is affected. I learned that the ones I love must decide for themselves, if they want to change, I can’t decide for them.

When the Unthinkable knocks on your front door

Unthinkable things sums up what happens to parents of drug addicts, at least in my world. Take for example, the phone call I got from a police officer of a special fugitive division. He was looking for my son and wanted my help. He knew my name; he knew all my family members’ names. We talked for 30 minutes about the perils my son faces – he’s concerned, he said. The last time he relapsed – pulled over for a traffic violation – he bolted. This “excites” police officers and the conversation turns to the dreaded, unthinkable – the likelihood that my son might do something that causes a police officer to fire his weapon. He might overdose, be killed by another junkie, and a host of other things. My mind already conjures up the worst case scenarios -these events are happening daily in my community. “You could rescue your son,” he threatens with fear. He suggested luring him in with the promise of money; they would wait around corners in undercover gear.

This put me in a strange, but familiar place. It reminded me of a time when I held onto the pseudo-belief that I have a lot of power and control over my son. With my own recovery from the family disease I know better. This is bigger than me and it’s not my business. Besides, there are always more outcomes than he presented – we don’t know. If I did these things, and my son was harmed as a result, would I be able to live with myself? If I didn’t do the sting operation and my son is killed on the street, would I be able to live with myself? Do I really have that much power?

I decided I would encourage my son to get help as I have always done, knowing this is his life and I’m not in control of it. That was if and when I would hear from him – he does not answer my calls either. Today I have a Power, greater than me that will guide me to a sane position. The perils of drug abuse, addiction and the disease related crimes by young people are unthinkable. And they progress. And their family, who love them beyond measure, can not save them with that love.

Living one day at a time can seem impossible when it is our children and addiction.

I remember when I had to ask my son to leave after many months of not living with integrity in my home.

That was the hardest winter I believe, I have ever gone through. Yes, it hurt not knowing where he was staying. Yes, back then I felt -how could I even survive it?  So the only thing I could do was to start living one day at a time. I did this by paying attention to my health. I started going to more of my own AA meetings, and became very involved in my Al-Anon meetings. I started walking the neighborhood every day for 40 minutes.

I read. I prayed.  And many – many days I would go to sleep crying. I can tell you on two occasions I actually woke up with tears flowing down my cheeks. I had dreamt about my son.

I am not saying it is easy. It certainly is not. But honestly, what was the alternative? This is what I learned for myself. To live by fear??? Fear of what I would find when I came home from work??

After many things had happened I finally realized I wanted my life back.  I wanted my safe haven back. My home. I also knew if their was a chance, I wanted my son back.  Eventually at the end of winter, sleeping in the park, on friends couches, and in the back seat of their cars, I finally got that phone call. “Mom, I want help, can I come home?”  I picked him up and the next day my son was in treatment.

I pray for all of you that the pain in your hearts become less and less.

Ricki Townsend, Family Counselor and Board Certified Interventionist.

The question that parents of addicts or alcoholics dread

“How’s your day going so far?” This question, often asked at the grocery store by the courtesy clerk, reminds me of a time I’d have to see if my kids were doing all right before I could answer. If they were doing well, then I was doing well. If they were messing up, then my day would be ruined. My attachment to them was so powerful that I was not aware of how much my well-being depended on them.

My concern for them at different stages of their troublesome drug use grew exponentially. Addiction is progressive. If a person does not seek recovery, they will spiral further and further. For my experience, this was exactly what happened. My life depended on them to get sober, and it was not looking good for me. If only he would get sober and start working in a job so he can be self-sufficient…Then I’d be happy! I remember when my son finally asked for help and we financed his treatment, a faith based live in facility. I was ecstatic! Finally! My life is going to get better. One thing was certain, I was able to sleep a full 7 hours. Many rehabs and relapses were on the horizon. Fortunately, during this time I sought help too.

With my co-dependent lifestyle, I was beginning to see health problems associated with years of stress and relying on an addict to make me feel happy. I remember my counselor asked me “do you want to be happy?” “Yes! Yes I do want to be happy!” I replied. “Then go right ahead.” What I did not know then, but have since learned, is my happiness is something I choose. I learned how NOT to rely on anyone to make me feel good. Are there days when sadness hits? You bet there is. That’s life, and I accept that there will be ups and downs. Down is not a destination.  Today, I’m doing great, thank you and it’s a wonderful feeling.

The art of saying NO to your addicted child

teenager contemplating futureMy disease is cunning. Left to my own devices, I will say yes when I want to say no or should say no because it’s a request for rescuing. I will over-commit or resent, either way, somebody is not going to be happy (besides me). Saying no seemed mean or disrespectful. What I learned was saying yes could be all that and more to my own sense of well–being and compromise other commitments I already had made.  I always felt guilty.

My recovery began with learning how to NOT COMMIT until I had reasonable to time to really decipher what was being asked of me. Sometimes I have to make choices, doing it all is not a choice if I want serenity in my life. Stall tactics such as “Don’t respond right away”, go into the “Oh-zone” and “buy time” all helped me learn to pause. I had to do this in the beginning because I was in a foreign land, unable to think or speak the language of recovery.  What was really happening?  I was beginning to form healthy and realistic boundaries.

I kept it simple: If my motive was to be liked, or I hoped I could manipulate an outcome, then I’d be in trouble. If my motive was to control, I was in trouble. If my motive was fear, I was in trouble. I picked up new language that progressed:

  • That won’t work for me.
  • I don’t do well in those settings.
  • I’m not able to devote the time you need.
  • Not at this time.
  • Perhaps another time.
  • I’m out on this one.
  • I will do this (something but not all) “meet halfway”
  • I have to think about it, can you contact me in x days?
  • I love you so I won’t.
  • No thanks.
  • No.

 

Taking My Inventory Helps With Boundaries

I discovered in my program of recovery that when I keep the focus on where it should be – me, I’m a better mother, parent, wife, daughter, aunt, friend and so on.  Before rehabilitation, my thoughts and actions were predicated on how my loved ones were doing. If they were struggling, I struggled to rescue and offer unsolicited advice. Alcohol and drug addiction is a progressive disease. Problems would and did escalate. If they did not listen to my advice, I tried harder and harder – as if this was a hearing problem. In my 12-Step program, I learned about the family disease which helped me understand the only control I had was to make a commitment to change what I was doing. This change would be monumental but only took willingness on my part.

Positive results crystalized in Step 4. Step 4 is about taking a complete moral inventory of me. I was accustomed to taking their inventory and uncomfortable about taking my own. Once I started, I realized how much I had to learn about me. At the same time I was beginning to understand why boundaries were so important. Without boundaries, I was being dragged into the drama – a side effect of drug problems. There was a time I did not know where I ended and they began – it was all inter-meshed. The fear for them was beyond words and my response to it was not always kind or respectful. Understanding me; why I act the way I do, why certain things upset me, why I get fearful and fretful helped me break away from old habits and beliefs. I could begin to employ boundaries that were backed up with sense and reason versus fear and meaningless threats. In the process there was the realization that no one would change because I wanted them to. My inventory helped me realize how I was powerless over IT, but not helpless over myself and my relationships.

For a thought provoking exercise on this topic, visit Parent Pathway Meetings-in-a-Box: Boundaries

Ask the Expert: Should I clean out my son’s bedroom while he is in detox?

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)Your Question: My son is 24 and living with us. He is about to complete a 4-5 day detox (his 1st and we hope last). Should we go into his room and clean it out? There are things he probably doesn’t want us to find/see. We want to be respectful of his privacy, but did he lose that privilege?

Photo of Ricki TownsendAnswer from Expert Ricki Townsend:  Before answering your question, I’d like to gently suggest that detox without treatment has very little chance for success. Supporting your son in recovery really calls for residential treatment, ideally for 90 days.  If you really want to help him and support his recovery, I hope you can find a way to line up residential treatment.

It’s critical to understand that detox followed by abstinence versus recovery are really different.  A detox only removes alcohol from the body and brain and creates a scaffold of abstinence, which gives the addict no insight at all into why he or she is using in the first place. In contrast, in recovery, we learn about the brain disease of chemical dependency, and we fill our tool boxes with education, wisdom, coping strategies and other tools to live in a healthy and insightful way. In recovery, addicts and alcoholics also connect with and find support from a community of like-minded people who want the same thing:  sustained recovery.

A 24-year- old addict really shouldn’t live at home. He is much more likely to reclaim his health in rehab or even transitional living (AKA “Half way houses”) while he learns more about recovery and regains healthy self-sufficiency and life skills.

You have every right to live in a drug-free home, and that includes making sure his bedroom is drug-free. If he becomes angry when you go through his room, please make sure he understands that he can choose to live in your home or not, but the price of admission is sobriety.

I’d also invite your family to find an Al-Anon meeting where you can get support and learn how to have good, strong boundaries. I wish you the best.

Ricki Townsend