Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

butterflyFor many of us, co-dependency developed quite naturally and innocently. We were the moms who took care of others when they couldn’t care for themselves. We unselfishly did the work that others didn’t want do, picked up the pieces that others dropped. We are the fixers, the rocks, and when we are sometimes blamed for having generous souls, as if that caused our kid’s addiction– it really hurts. It makes me feel extremely misunderstood. Since when is it a liability to be helpful and supportive?

But I know now about that fine line between support and unhealthy enabling. As I’ve learned, the assistance that I freely heaped upon my son, often unbidden, started to cripple him. I crossed that fine line when I started to do for him the things he could do for himself. Or maybe he couldn’t do them, or couldn’t do them well enough, but I got in the way and pre-empted his growth.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we moms of kids who struggle with drugs often faced other issues that we tried to smooth over for them. Our kids had learning disabilities and floundered in the classroom, and we were their advocates. They had serious medical vulnerabilities, and we ran interference to make sure they were safe and had the medical accommodations they needed. Often, they suffered from depression, and we were there to blunt some of the blows that could pull them further down. These acts of kindness can often spiral into an unhealthy co-dependence, and that’s where healthy support turns into unhealthy enabling. Like the caterpillar that needs to wrestle its way out of the cocoon in order to survive, our kids need to develop their own muscles if they are to thrive. We can’t build those muscles for them.

No News is Good News – Stay in the moment, don’t let worry rob your joy

‘No news is good news’ – an age old saying that we often hear. In terms of a loved one with addiction it is a mixed feeling you get when you don’t hear from them as often as you think you should. These are rampant expectations that swirl through my head. Hmmm…I haven’t heard from my daughter in a couple days, what does that mean? Of course my mind plays lots of games with the answer to that question. Even though my daughter has been in recovery quite a while now, I realize my recovery from the trauma of having a loved in such a treacherous situation for an extended period of time holds residual effects for me. In the heat of the addiction, when I didn’t hear from my daughter for days, it ALWAYS meant something bad. I would fret and pace and do all kinds of crazy things to try to figure out what was going on.

Now as we have reached a place of normalcy in our lives, we have a healthy flow of communication. So, when time goes by that is not in our regular cadence it startles me how quickly I let myself begin the wondering and second guessing. Should I casually call her work and see if she’s there and okay? What if something happened to her? How would I know? And although these thoughts come to me, I am very aware of how they don’t belong and I remember the ‘no news is good news’ saying. If something was wrong she would call me! What is so humorous is that when she does call or I call her and finally get ahold of her it is always met with ‘I’ve been working long hours and it’s exhausting!’ or ‘I got together with friends and we had a great time!’. It is a constant reminder to me to enjoy the moments of my life and not let the unnecessary worry, that robs me of my real time joy, control me.

Stop talking and start mending things with your addicted child

Photo of teen girl talking to woman.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

Jane’s Journal: Angels and Devils Along the Way

Baby boy socksThis is the fourth blogpost from Jane as she chronicles her own learnings and growth alongside her son in early recovery.

In the 12 chaotic weeks since we learned of our 25-year-old son’s heroin addiction, it feels like we’ve traveled to another country–a war-ravaged place where only the lucky and strong survive. We tried an at-home recovery and failed. We believed he was staying clean and were wrong. We believed we could be part of his recovery and learned that we could, but only as far as he let us.

So at the end of February, after attending one of his many NA meetings, where he’d been leading everyone there to believe (like us) that he was clean, our son called us at 10:00 pm to say he was still using and was tired of lying to everyone. His NA leader was with him and had convinced him it was time to go to detox and rehab, and our son said he was ready to go. This amazing NA leader not only talked him into detox and rehab, he also let him spend the night and drove him there the next morning. I’d asked this favor because if he’d come home that night to his irate father, things would not have gone well.

Next morning, my haggard, sleepless husband went to work and I made phone calls to our son to see what would happen next. He said his NA leader would help him purchase the things he’d need right away and get him to the facility, 45 minutes away. We could bring more of his belongings later. Then, an hour before he was to surrender his cellphone and wallet at rehab, he called to inform me there was a credit card I needed to pay and cancel. He quickly gave me all the passwords and security answers and I began the process, going online to find a $1500 balance. (So THIS was how he was getting cash.) Rushing, I paid the balance, changed the passwords and the mailing address, then– sobbing into the phone to a complete stranger—I explained that I’d paid the card off and wanted to cancel it because my son was an addict. SURPRISE! They refused to do so without his vocal approval, even after I told them I had all the passwords and security answers and he was in the process of checking himself into rehab! This major credit card company was insisting on vocal commands from an addict (read: MALE VOICE, sight unseen) even though I had all the pertinent information. In the last frantic moments before he handed over his phone at rehab, I conferenced him in so they could hear his voice.

The next day my husband and I drove to our son’s new home and hospital. It wasn’t fancy, but clean, caring and professional. We didn’t get to see him but met his counselor–his wonderful, incredible counselor– who although incredibly busy, was committed to our son’s care and willing to work with us on all issues affecting treatment. He listened to us, to our son, and wisely navigated the de-tangling of our emotions and experience. He allowed us to communicate through emails, wherein we gave details about our son, our family, the unique interpersonal dynamics, our son’s personality and experiences as we knew them. Most of these emails were relayed when our son was strong enough to read them, and they covered the gamut: there were encouraging emails, angry emails, sad emails and daily-life emails. It was our own therapy and a way of keeping in touch with him, using his counselor as conduit. Meanwhile we were also slowly revealing his addiction to trusted family members and friends, and many of these people also sent emails via his counselor.

Although we learned later there were drugs offered to him while in rehab, our son detoxed, stayed in treatment, and with one minor episode of trying to snort his sleep medication (which he said was just for the feeling of snorting it, NOT to get high), he emerged 25 days later, clean and sober. What we also learned from his counselor was that he’d been depressed for years and had considered suicide occasionally. A diagnostic session with a psychiatrist was scheduled, and in that session he confessed that although he gave the world the impression of constant optimism, he was indeed depressed. Isolation was his worst fear and enemy.

Depression runs in my family, and I’d had my own experiences, both with serious depression and the miracle of medication at the proper time. But soon we saw the effect on our son, who in less than a week on Prozac emerged from an addict’s chrysalis of anger and confusion. He was calmer, stronger, less reactive and thinking more clearly. Whereas he once balked at anything he couldn’t manage on his own, he now seemed ready to listen and think about needed life changes.

As I write I know there are those who will say such medication is not the answer, but in our son’s case the results were–and still are, 21 days later— a true miracle. He is clean 43 days and now living in a structured, safe halfway house in Florida, where he is tested regularly, required to work or go to school, and uphold the many rules of the house. The house was recommended by his angel counselor in rehab.

Our son is getting up every morning at 8:30, riding a bicycle, applying for jobs and shucking his former nocturnal self for a daytime occupant. He says he is taking life slowly and carefully, going to sometimes two NA meetings per day. He is measured and calm, thoughtful and communicative, texting daily. We make no plans past his 100-day minimum stay there. Meanwhile he and we are “cautiously optimistic.” We all know there will quite likely be more devils in wait for us, and him, as we go forward. But for now we’re all enjoying a break from the madness. For now at least, the angels are winning.

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     


Avoiding angry irrational outburst with your teen

mom daughter arguing trust distrust angerThe Partnership at DrugFree.Org does an outstanding job promoting resources for parents through various campaigns and there is one in particular I heard on the radio that I just love. It completely represents how I acted with my sons in the beginning. When I first heard it, I thought YES! I had a bunch of awkward moments, feeling the intense desire to confront my sons and accuse! I just didn’t know what to call it back then and I did not know how else to “handle” grave concerns. Of course their own responses were fairly well represented in the ad. What’s astonishing is that the same rhetoric was heard in a business meeting I attended last week; all I have to do is change the names in the script.

I guess we humans have a universal way of not communicating how we really feel – especially when the topic is backed by fear, ignorance, or any strong emotional attachment based on…experience, beliefs, judgment.

There really is a better way to have a more productive conversation and it begins with me. Left to my own devices, I come out of the shoot with the finish line in sight and ultimately say something I’m going to regret – it sounds just like this:

Mom: “Awkward, confrontational accusation!”

Daughter: “automatic denial!”

Mom: “Angry irrational statement I’ll regret later…”

Daughter: “Fake, emotional whimper”

To see the “typical conversation” advertisement click here!

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.

‘Act As If’ to regain your life

When my world started falling apart over my drug addiction in my family it became a challenge to get through the day. I realized on reflection that there were many days in a row that I did not smile; the joy had been zapped out of my life. I had the impending dread that I would never be happy until my daughter was safe and whole again. I would go through my days and meet my responsibilities because I knew I had to carry on, but it was hollow and empty. My reprieve came when I found other parents who were suffering and struggling to cope with their children’s wreckage from substance abuse. One thing that struck me with these parents is that I heard laughter which is what I least expected. How can anyone laugh when our children are dying a slow painful death due to their drug abuse?
I found that I needed to pull myself out of the darkness that had become my life and begin living again. It didn’t mean I cared any less nor had fewer concerns, it just meant that I needed to focus on myself and the rest of my family and not just the loved one in addiction. There is a saying, ‘act as if’. This is a very powerful saying, because sometimes you need to ‘act as if’ you are okay before you really are okay. When I began to ‘act as if’ my life could be restored to sanity, and I could enjoy myself even if it were for just brief moments at a time, slowly I began to reclaim my life. It was also a good sign to my other loved ones who needed me, because they needed reassurance that I was there for them. So ‘act as if’ and see how it can help you to move forward in the face of a challenging time.

Triangle of Dysfunction – Working together to present a united front

652434_95047374 triangleThere 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.  Often times the parents do not 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 a united front on what to do 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.