If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again, and again and again

Making progress with recoveryHow many times did my daughter relapse before she committed to living a clean and sober life?   I don’t know the answer to that question and I bet if I asked my daughter, she would be hard pressed to know the accurate answer – I’m guessing her answer would be ‘a lot!’  I remember early in the journey when I was very naïve about addiction and thought when she went into a 28 day rehab, ‘finally she will be okay!’  Little did I know that was just the beginning of a long journey of trials and tribulations.  Not only for my daughter to overcome her addiction but also for myself to overcome my addiction to my daughter!  That’s how my codependency manifested itself, like an addiction to my daughter and her every move.  What is she doing?  Is she safe?  Where is she?  Will she call?  The questions and worry in my mind played over and over again like the obsession that it had become.  I distinctly remember one of her counselors telling me, ‘she’ll start getting better when you stop enabling her.’  Huh?  Excuse me…I’m not giving her the drugs!

But when I finally internalized what she was telling me, it became clear that I did not the power to control what my daughter did, I did play a key part in making it easy for her to continue in her addiction.  When I started taking away the comforts and started holding her accountable for her actions instead of bailing her out, she started making progress.  Not because of me but because she had to make difficult choices.  One of the biggest turning points was when I made an agreement with her that I would pay for her sober living rent but nothing else.  She had a job so she would have to budget her money for food and other necessities.  She didn’t like it at first, but over time her self-esteem soared as she took responsibility for her life.  It was so gratifying to watch.  Having a job and responsibilities is very healing for those in recovery.

I Did Not Cause My Son To Become An Addict

heart treeBy Sandy Swenson, Author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction

I did not cause my son to become an addict. As a parent, I do not possess that power. Addiction happens because a renegade sip or snort or sniff crosses an invisible line between want and need.

When my sons were little I imagined I had all kinds of power. I could decide when it was time to put them down for a nap – but they might play in their cribs rather than fall asleep. I could serve up a healthy dinner – but if they didn’t want to eat the small mound of lima beans on their plates They Did Not. I could teach my sons right from wrong and good from bad – but my word alone often wasn’t enough and they experimented to see how those rights and wrongs worked. It soon became clear that while I could be their guide, my boys were going to be who they were meant to be. My real power as a mother was simply to love them.

And, of course, to annoy them and piss them off.

Depending on the kid, the phase, the age, the mood and the moment, as a parent I was perceived to be too nosey, too hovering, and, on occasion, not hovering enough. I sometimes didn’t listen carefully when I should have, and sometimes listened in when I should have not. I hurt my children’s feelings. I made them feel angry and sad and unheard and misunderstood. Try as I might to be otherwise, I am an imperfect mom. Imperfect parenting, however, does not cause children to become addicts. (If that were so, every child would grow up to be one.)

Maybe I drove Joey to drink, so to speak. Maybe he was hurting. Or mad. Or embarrassed of this old gal who brazenly adored him for the sweet boy he was. Or, maybe Joey was insecure and uncomfortable with the process of growing up. Whatever his reason for first using drugs and alcohol, Joey had also been enticed towards the glamorized hole-filler by popular culture since birth. (Even though I had taught him to Just Say No.)

Substance abuse and addiction are not the same thing, however.

As a child – a child – substance abuse was a choice Joey made. But, why he started and why he can’t stop are two different things. Addiction snuck up on my son – picked him out of the substance-abusing crowd – and choked him.

Substance abuse is a choice. Addiction is a disease.
As a parent I made a lot of mistakes, but causing my son to be an addict is not one of them.

Home sweet home – the joy of recovery

As time goes on I am making progress with my recovery as a co-dependent. But, yet, I get frustrated that I can’t ‘get it’ right all the time. It’s an interesting paradox to immerse yourself into learning about co-dependency, what it is, how it is negative to yourself and others, how to change these behaviors. Then you have all the ‘book smarts’ about it, just like any other topic or subject you decide to become proficient about. So, why can’t I turn this information from intellectual understanding to daily behavior? It occurred to me that if I thought about a sports analogy then maybe I could make a parallel that would help me be a little easier on myself.
For instance, if I bought a book on water skiing then read it and studied it, and even bought videos on instruction and technique, should I expect to go out on the water and be proficient at water skiing the first, second, third and so on tries? Of course we would never expect this. So, why do I think I can read about a behavior and think that I can take this intellectual understanding and instantly turn it into practice in my day to day life? What I’ve found is that with every opportunity to practice what I’m learning, I become a little more proficient. I’ve even found when those opportunities do not come for a bit, that I also become a bit rusty. It is progress, not perfection that I strive for. As long as I see that I am making progress then I realize I am heading in the right direction on this journey.

Progress, Not Perfection to overcome co-dependent behaviors

It seems as time goes on I am making progress with my recovery as a co-dependent. But, yet, I get frustrated that I can’t ‘get it’ right all the time. It’s an interesting paradox to immerse yourself into learning about co-dependency, what it is, how it is negative to yourself and others, how to change these behaviors. Then you have all the ‘book smarts’ about it, just like any other topic or subject you decide to become proficient about. So, why can’t I turn this information from intellectual understanding to daily behavior? It occurred to me that if I thought about a sports analogy then maybe I could make a parallel that would help me be a little easier on myself.
For instance, if I bought a book on water skiing then read it and studied it, and even bought videos on instruction and technique, should I expect to go out on the water and be proficient at water skiing the first, second, third and so on tries? Of course we would never expect this. So, why do I think I can read about a behavior and think that I can take this intellectual understanding and instantly turn it into practice in my day to day life? What I’ve found is that with every opportunity to practice what I’m learning, I become a little more proficient. I’ve even found when those opportunities do not come for a bit, that I also become a bit rusty. It is progress, not perfection that I strive for. As long as I see that I am making progress then I realize I am heading in the right direction on this journey.