One way I have learned to improve my relationships with my adult children whose issues with substance abuse bothered me is to remember to keep my big mouth shut…tight! My friend says “I have the right to remain silent; I just don’t have the ability to!” Finally, I’m given a reason for my behavior – I’m powerless over the desire to comment! A symptom of co-dependency, it perpetuates my unhappiness with the outcomes. Even though I’m aware of the negative consequences, I forget the tools that help me behave differently. Slowly, I remember those tools before my tongue takes over and my ability to communicate with maturity improves.
I use to override or completely miss the signs that the other person doesn’t want to engage or is put off by something I have said. I tend to do this uncensored with the ones closest to me. For example, I want to offer advice that wasn’t requested from me or offer a better solution to something they share. Their reaction is silence, withdrawn or irritated outburst. Outbursts are unpleasant, but silence seems worse! The sound of silence triggers my need to break it with a question. Questions can be aggressive. Usually, I ask prying questions under the guise of being loving or interested. A question can put people on the defensive and coupled with substance abuse, there is also an open invitation for lying. Questions can also be perceived as prying and nosey. That is not the kind of mother I want to be and if I had continued without change, I would have pushed others further away from me – the exact opposite of what I desire!
Understanding my role in the family disease has helped me appreciate the significance of the slogan W.A.I.T. This is an acronym I picked up in Al-Anon which stands for “why am I talking?” A good reminder to keep my urge to say something in check. Another problem with questions is I’m usually not prepared for the answer! I’ve grabbed onto the saying, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know!” Learning to listen and accept the situation, without comment, gets easier the more I practice. I have come to realize that silence is not unpleasant but rather a time I can compose myself to breathe, invite my Higher Power in, and be mindful of my own character defects.
To learn more about communicating successfully with your loved ones, explore Parent Pathway’s Meeting in a Box: Communication
There is a dynamic I call the ‘triangle of dysfunction’ which includes a victim, a villain and a hero. What can happen in difficult situations is there is one person who is victimized, either by themselves or by others. In the case of addiction, it could be the addict who is struggling to overcome their addiction. The young addict’s parents become completely consumed with how to help their kid get healthy and overcome their addiction. There are often times when the parents do not always agree on what to do. Certainly this can happen when the parents are still married and can be complicated if the parents are divorced. When the addict does something that results in serious consequences like getting arrested for possession of illegal drugs it can be difficult to determine what to do. When the call comes to the parents to help ‘bail me out of jail’ it is a very difficult situation. On one hand you do not want your child to be in jail and on the other hand you know that they need to take responsibility for their actions. If one parent says ‘no’ I won’t bail you out, and then the other parent says ‘yes’ I’ll bail you out. The one who says ‘no’ becomes the villain and the one who says ‘yes’ becomes the hero.
I’m not going to lobby for which is the ‘right’ thing for the parents to do, but I will lobby that an agreement gets made together to avoid the ‘triangle of dysfunction’. By banding together and discussing the possible ways to handle the response and giving a united front to your kid or young adult you will avoid the chance of being played against one another. It will also show your loved one that you care enough to work together and that you are consistent. By giving different answers or reversing decisions of one parent creates a disruptive and erratic family dynamic. Keep in communication and try to agree together whenever possible. It will foster a positive relationship for all involved.
There’s a saying that has been very helpful along my journey through my daughters struggle with addiction – ‘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. I’ll give an example. Early in the journey when my daughter was active in her addiction she had gotten out of rehab and was going into a sober living house. I said what I meant, ‘You need to have a plan if you choose to relapse and use drugs/alcohol again because coming home is not an option’. I truly meant this and I knew it was what was best for her. ‘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.
The day came when my daughter did relapse and called me late at night. “I got kicked out, I messed up, I need to come home, I have nowhere to go…’. Short of getting a call that your loved one has been hurt or worse, this is the call we parents dread when we have said coming home is not an option. This happened a few years ago and I have learned so much since then about how the most loving thing you can do is stick to what you said. Late that night I couldn’t bear the thought of where my daughter would go or what might happen to her and I let her come home. Five days later she drove her car while seriously intoxicated and crashed into a tree. By the grace of God, she survived. 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 moment on to ‘Say what I mean, mean what I say and don’t say it mean’ and it has made all the difference in her recovery and mine.