When my son was released from incarceration the 2nd time, I was better equipped to not come rescuing like the first time. The first time I arranged to meet him, buy him clothes, toiletries and a hotel room until he found a sober living situation. I paid for his lodging and soon followed with food shopping extravaganzas. Though I believed I was cautiously treading and not helping to the extreme, he was indirectly relying on my assistance and I was relying on his success.
I was reminded that each time I helped in matters he was capable of doing himself; he did not have to focus on the necessities of life. Since those were being “handled” by me, he could focus on other things which may or may not result in favorable outcomes. I carried a hidden expectation that he would find a job and become self sufficient. It ultimately became clear addiction and all the consequences that go with it trumped us all.
It’s a fine line to walk as a mother. Naturally, there are choices one takes, but, if my actions, no matter how innocent or caring, interferes with my son doing for himself, then it’s the wrong thing to do. And here’s a mind bender – I’m still fooling myself if I try to control someone by withholding help if I attach an expectation to it! The “I won’t buy you food, so you will be forced to work!” control mentality. And helping because it makes me feel better doesn’t fly with me anymore. Such disrespect SHOUTS “I’m helping because you are not capable and it kills me to see it” – that is not the message I really want to convey!
Getting out of the way is that way! It’s the way I can give with no hidden, read-the-fine-print mommy babble because it keeps a healthy boundary between us both. There are no strings attached. He may go right or left and it’s not my business. Such was my lesson. I was once again reminded that I’m powerless over this disease. I was once again reminded that if I could not or would not accept the powerlessness part, then I would always be in conflict with him and play a critical role in contributing to the cunning, baffling nature of the disease. I had to get out of the cage and stop dancing with the gorilla. My sons’ 2nd chance has thus far had drastic favorable results and he gets all the credit. All I did was get out of the way with a strong belief he is capable of figuring it out, whatever “it” is. (And I pray for the stranger).
It has been said over and again, parents are the biggest influence over their children. I must of thought that meant for life. There were times I might have had a moment of influential pride – what I call the “my child is an honor student syndrome.” I never went so far as to affix it to my car bumper! I was more apt to give my children credit where credit was due. THEY worked hard at it…HE always had a love for basketball…HE was driven to pursue…I don’t know where they got it!” But there are situations where rightful ownership is distorted by pride – “Yep, that’s my boy!” With unsaid attitude: “I raised ‘em right!”
When behavior turns risky and substance abuse leads to addiction, the parental influence becomes nonexistent. But, like me, most parents don’t stop trying to reclaim their influence. And if crime related incidences by underage adults happen, we are quick to blame the parents casting quick judgment – “she deserves imprisonment” – “How can the parents allow that to happen?”
Like most of us struggling with an addict in the family, I stressed with martyrdom. I spent every waking moment trying to prevent or stop the unthinkable consequences of the risky behavior. I acted as if I had the ability to stop it. I acted like I caused it. I acted to regain that parental influence I was entitled to have! I’ll admit there was a bit of guilt, what I call the “what will the neighbor’s think syndrome.”
The flip side of giving credit where credit is due is taking responsibility for something I don’t own, good or bad. It’s easier to allow them the glory of success than to allow them the dignity of living with a disease. Who wouldn’t give their right arm to take away their pain? What good did it do in trying? It is this distorted thinking that causes further problems in helping my children recover from their drug addiction. The perils of parenting are for life but it’s never too late to improve on it.
Our children’s substance abuse creates such isolation for beloved addicts and parents alike. It feels like others cannot possibly relate to our struggles as parents of addicts unless they, too, have been hunkered down in the trenches of fear, anger and shame. But I have great hope that as we spread the word about addiction as a brain disease, then the shame of being the parent of a drug addict will begin to dissipate, and we can come together openly and constructively to prevent addiction through awareness and education.
So here, for the record, is the official definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine: The ASDM defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
Physician Michael Wilkes aptly illustrates that point in the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary when he says, “I don’t think it’s any more under someone’s control than skin cancer or breast cancer or an infectious disease. Sure, there’s some role you had initially but once you begin to get the actual manifestations of the disease, you can’t stop it without a significant amount of help.” (You can watch Collision Course here…and then ask your local Public TV station to run it in your area.)
We’ve all experienced the part about the sheer amount of work and terror in trying to derail active addiction. Through education and awareness, we can stop addiction before it even starts. And never forget—there is no shame in having a child with a disease, whether its asthma, diabetes or chemical dependency.
Those of us who know teen substance abuse firsthand are unwitting invitees to a private party where we can share both heartbreak and healing amongst ourselves, cry together, support each other, and find hope amidst the ruins, hand in hand with our sisters or brothers. I am so thankful for the privacy of the community where I have found support and solutions; at the same time, I yearn for the larger world to have an accurate understanding of the disease of addiction/ alcoholism. Prevention and educational efforts will take place on a meaningful level only when our children’s substance abuse is acknowledged as a national problem.
Whitney Houston’s death may serve to open the curtains on addiction. While some may disparage her as an addict who “didn’t have willpower and chose to die,” other influential voices that tell a different story are now being heard. Dr. Drew continues to authoritatively speak the truth about the ravages of this chronic disease as it kills those in the public eye. Jamie Lee Curtis wrote boldly about fame and the disease of addiction in the Huffington Post.
How can we parents support this critical awareness without jeopardizing our family’s privacy or “outing” our children to their detriment? Some ideas to consider: spread the word about the disease of addiction by “liking” the Jamie Lee Curtis post. Share the Collision Course- Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary with your friends and family: you can view the entire 27-minute documentary online and even order a copy of the documentary for your schools or community. Please join this conversation and share with us the ways you are helping others understand addiction as a public health crisis.
In learning so much about drug and alcohol addiction over the last several years, one thing has become crystal clear. Our society judges those who have crossed over from a recreational use of any given substance to the brain altering state of addiction. It is done not only from a quiet judgment in one’s own mind but also by the titles used for someone who has the addiction; ‘junkie’, ‘crack head’, ‘meth freak’, the list is endless. We look at those in active addiction as weak, lacking of control and unmotivated. Even when someone has made the struggle to get clean and live a life of recovery they are judged. It’s as if they have a scarlet letter plaguing them. Most people chose only the safe haven of Alcoholic or Narcotics Anonymous to be open about who they are and where they’ve been. It’s in those rooms that they can find acceptance.
The fact is addiction is a disease that alters the brain for which there is no cure. The disease which affects the mid brain manifests in behaviors that the person would most likely never imagine doing if not for the addiction. It is interesting that when someone choses recovery and even when the live a relatively normal life of responsibility they still have to be careful about who they are open to about their situation. There are so many different types of addictions that people face I wonder sometimes whether everyone has an addiction of some sort; exercise, eating, shopping, TV, video gaming, the list is endless. Yet we focus on drug addiction as a scornful situation. We need to see this disease for what it is a disease and help those afflicted just as if they had cancer or diabetes. Only then will we be able to get help for those that need it and help to embrace them in our communities at the same time.
If you are like me, the fall season – especially when Halloween turns to Christmas at Walmart, brings me feelings of angst. I used to think it was because of the disease of addiction that surrounds me. The weather is cold – is my son cold? The days are shorter, is he well sheltered? I begin to feel sad, is he depressed too? I remember a time when October marked the beginning of a new form of joy in anticipation of the holidays and colder weather. Maybe it had more to do with my children being young and innocent than anything else. I’d look forward to family gatherings and home cooked meals, crafts and decorating. Since addiction is a disease of relationships, family gatherings of joy and merriment became cloaked with sadness and dysfuntion. How could I find enjoyment when the disease lurked like a dark shadow over the firelight and company?
Today, the truth is I have a choice (and always did) in dreading or embracing the change in seasons. Yes, the days are short, but I still have faith. I have much to be grateful for and my love for my addict children has not changed. I sometimes catch myself getting self-centered and wanting things to be different. I would be happy if…. But when I accept the way things are I can navigate the winter season much better, and I only have to do it one day at a time. If I’m healthier and spiritually fit, I can embrace the dark night and short days as a measure of change. Change is not painful; resistance to the seasons hurts like hell. As long as I remember I have a choice in the matter my seasonal dread soon dissipates and it’s a matter of perspective – embrace or resist.
My Christmas posting every year is dedicated to Tiffany Noel Chapman, a Christmas baby born in December, 1976. She became addicted to the pain pills that were prescribed when she broke her neck in a high school car accident. She died when she was 27, her liver destroyed by the pain pills that her body and brain demanded.
Many people believe that teens “choose” to become drug addicts or alcoholics when they party with drugs or alcohol, but addiction often develops under less voluntary circumstances. Tiffany’s genetic predisposition for addiction was triggered by the pain meds that she needed to take for intractable pain. Her story, while not uncommon, is an eye-opener to those (including me) who had no clue that even doctor-prescribed and doctor-monitored medications can become addictive.
Tiffany’s parents took her home from various ERs after repeated overdoses. Not once did they receive discharge instructions that shed any light on the brain disease they were fighting. Not once did they receive counsel about rehab or information about resources. They didn’t understand the phantom they were fighting in the dark, without tools or weapons. And they aren’t alone in their not-knowingness: teen addiction and alcoholism aren’t commonly discussed in today’s parenting books. In fact, most physicians have little or no training about addiction or alcoholism, especially as a teen issue, and little information to share with struggling parents.
Tiffany’s mother Linda opens her heart when she shares their story in the Collision Course-Teen Addiction Epidemic, reminding all of us to be aware and vigilant because anyone—even the most golden child—can be vulnerable to this deadly disease.