Hula Hoop Visual – a mother’s tool for the family disease of addiction

I recall and still experience people (landlords, relatives, employers, friends) who contact me of a status or question about one of my sons. Never mind they are over 18, adults! Their drug addiction progressed to unacceptable behavior to society at large and the only dependable contact is me. Usually it is a phone call, so the sound of the ring can put me on edge. It’s been a few years since the extreme drama. However, the intensity may have slowed down but not entirely, nor the feelings I get. Each time someone comes at me regarding my child, I take the situation as if I were the one that did it. I’d probably do the same thing if someone were coming at me about a miraculous good deed or achievement they did; I’d take credit for that too! Those scenarios typically don’t happen in a family affected by the disease of alcoholism and substance abuse. My feelings are a force within, so strong I’m propelled to take action: clean it up, apologize, and make excuses. I’ve come to understand this is a common experience for a parent whose child’s early adult years are plagued with substance abuse.  Left untreated, it can lead to many health concerns as did happen to me.

With treatment through Al-Anon, I’ve learned a new way to handle my reactions; one that helps me determine if the matter is mine. There is a saying “if you put on a hula hoop, all things that happen inside the hula hoop belong to me and everything outside the hula hoop belongs to them.” This has given me a visual that is easy to remember. Today, I’m better at handling the “outside the hula hoop” matters as they still come up. It doesn’t necessarily center around addiction or my sons. But I’m learning that it’s a part of life and it’s what people do. People will come at me with matters that don’t necessarily belong to me. When it happens I can relapse to old ways and get defensive or take blame for something I did not do.  Alternatively, I utilize choices in how I react based on recognizing what belongs to me and what doesn’t. These choices are healthier. The feelings of take charge and fix-it are still very strong!  The Hula-Hoop tool is more about my own rehabilitation from my affliction of the family disease of co-dependency.

Mobile Serenity – Detaching from stress to relax

finding serenity while campingI heard someone say, “nothing like Arkansas in the rearview mirror!” to illustrate a point about running away from problems. It’s also been termed a “geographic” – meaning, if I move away to another city, state, country, I will leave the problems behind. This sounded like a good idea – boy was I ready to escape! I had entertained those thoughts myself because addiction and drug abuse was creating havoc in my life and I was at wits end.  I felt cornered where the only way out was to pick up and move!

I have since learned that running away doesn’t solve anything because I still have to live with myself! I can’t run from me – but early on I did not see my part in the equation. I only saw what THEY were doing. Detach with love! Detach with anger! Detach however you can! These were recurring suggestions. Not knowing how to detach, one thing that did work was to take “mini geographics” with my husband in our travel trailer. These little escapades, new to us, in an old used hunting trailer my husband brought home, became my way to detach. For one long weekend I would go to the mountains, the ocean or a lake and have serenity. Eventually I found my higher power. Eventually I learned how to focus on my life again with no outside influences; phone calls, knocks at the door, newspapers, neighbors. We detached, if but for one weekend at a time!

These road trips were my time: to read, paint, take walks, kayak. I could sleep; sleep some more and read my recovery material. I worked on me, and what I gained was health: spiritual, physical and mental. I fondly think of my old trailer as my “mobile serenity” which helped me understand the solution to my problems begin with me.


Parents United? If Mom and Dad don’t agree on parenting an addict

I doubt my husband and I carried a united front when problems started escalating in our family unit as a result of the drug use, abuse and addiction.    I can relate to stories of families that split apart due to strong opposing opinions, broken dreams, anger and frustration in the relationships.   Blame starts to take on a life of its own.

It seemed in my home, I was at times hesitant to bring attention, make a scene or confront the problem head on.  Then again, I was the one who was in the home, seeing the problems, finding the paraphernalia, answering the calls from teachers, neighbors or other parents.   It was if I was either in denial or tackling the issues head on.   But I don’t recall a shared vision of the seriousness of the problems in the beginning.  My husband would discipline if necessary (wait till your father gets home syndrome), go pick up the pieces of a totaled car, post bail or “man-handle” the recalcitrant teenager.  But he was also sensitive to my reactions and had growing concerns about his family.  At other times he would begin to lecture me on my parenting skills (in round about ways) and I would begin to resent his absence in the daily trauma-drama.  Those were the most difficult times in our relationship and it was a miracle we made it through.   But we did.  And it wasn’t because we are so clever or lucky.  We sought counseling and committed ourselves to get the help we needed and learn how to support our children whether in recovery or not.

Today we are united in what we will and will not allow (boundaries) when it comes to our own serenity and livelihood as a husband and wife, parents and as individuals.  We can discuss our feelings and concerns with issues that continue to challenge us and we are able to find a mutual ground before making a decision.  We have respect and accept each other’s opinions, even though we may not agree.   In a sense, we are now acting in a loving and kind way and we no longer have to lecture blame or scold. We have been through some troubling times like all the parents whose children fall prey to addiction.  We have also had amazing joy and happiness.  Not knowing what the future will bring, we can appreciate our life today and find solace that we may not have been united: we did the best we could with what we knew at the time.

Jail Visitation Rituals

Jail Visitation is a familiar setting.  I’ve been a visitor here often, and it spans many years.  The locations change, but the signs are the same.  This is where I go to see my son when his disease lands him there.  Over time, my visitation attitude has changed.  It used to be I would try to reason with him; tell him what I think he needs to hear, show disappointment because he’s not doing what I think he should be doing and chasing my dream that he will get it this time.  It’s too hard to keep working that angle with no benefit.  Eventually, my desires for my son’s recovery became no longer necessary to outwardly express them.  His incarceration is a result of drug addiction, period, end of story.  And when I accept that, my relationship with him is on neutral territory: he’s not on the hot seat, and I’m not the interrogator.  It’s this change in attitude that allows me to choose that visit, because jail visitation has many inconveniences.   I would inwardly fight the system with its unyielding rules for visitors.  Now I endure the rules and regulations about what I wear, what I carry in, and for those 30 minutes, I forfeit a day.  But it’s worth it because now I’m just a loving mom visiting my son. After I’m “admitted in” I embrace the 40 minute wait.  There is no reading material allowed and our chairs face a TV that is never turned on.  As other visitors file through I begin to get anxious about what to do with all that time sitting still waiting for the clock to turn to visit time.  There’s really nothing else but to twittle my thumbs.  Then I remember that I can invite my Higher Power in; asking for guidance on how I can be fully present with my son.  I can turn inward to prayer and meditation.   I have concerns, but I’m not consumed by them anymore.   I wish his situation will turn to better days, but I don’t dwell on the future too much.   And then the fastest 30 minutes of the day flashes by, and I’m grateful that I can visit my son and that he enjoys the time with me as well.

When I grow up, I want to be a parent of a drug addict!

I was reminded of a public service announcement years ago for teenage drug abuse & addiction.  It depicted several small children, all darling and innocent. One says, “When I grow up, I want to be fireman.” Another says “when I grow up, I want to be a heroin addict.”  What?

Of Course! No one intentionally chooses addiction. So what happened?  It was not that long ago we all adorned our kids in their red “JUST SAY NO” t-shirts to school!

I once had a woman tell me she did not want to know more about the current drug epidemic in her neighborhood because “I am raising my children right!” This was at a drug take-back community event to get people to bring in their unused prescription pills.  Was it fear? Denial?  Other times I hear public officials suggest, “eat dinner every night with your children” in response to the growing concern of what parents can do for prevention measures. If it were only that simple: eating dinner and raising them right…

At first glance, a parent of a young child may hope that daily family venues, involvement in school and sporting events, and the like, will immunize their family from such dangers. I experienced otherwise. I have learned that matters of addiction and drug abuse are complicated. And no person ever said “when I grow up, I want to be a parent of a heroin addict!”  Christy Crandell, in her book, Lost & Found, tells the true story: even devoted parents whose active, supportive “traditional family” lifestyle does not negate drug addiction from shattering their lives.

I hope we can all let go of the stereotyping, flip answers that lead nowhere and old notions about addiction and prevention. Today’s culture is not yesterdays – “just say no” to old beliefs is more apropro. Learn as much as you can about current drug abuse, trends and addiction.  Ignorance is not bliss.

When things fall apart – beginning to deal with addiction in your family

Pathway to SerenityIt occurred to me one day that having a loved one with addiction sneaks up on you. I’ve reflected on the journey of having a child struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, and it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment, but there is a moment when things fall apart.  The life you so carefully crafted thus far becomes a distant shore that you long for. How does this happen? One day you are holding your precious baby, then sending them off to school, watching their soccer games, and then a darkness starts to creep in so deceptively stealth that you don’t even realize it. This is how I recall the addiction that ravaged my daughter along with our family. It is not so obvious that you see it coming towards you on the horizon like an unwanted storm. It is a silent enemy that steals your precious loved one.

I remember the sudden disruptions that started to occur. My daughter was an obedient student and child who followed the rules and didn’t like to get in trouble. When she began experimenting with drugs, her behaviors rapidly changed from predictable to unmanageable and sometimes frightening. By the time we realized the severity of the situation and began trying to determine what to do, it was like a train leaving the station. There are many things that I know now from this journey that I wish I had known at the beginning. First, what to watch for and also not think it was just a phase. A phase turned into a serious brain altering disease. It was a struggle to get my daughter to seek help; she was an unwilling participant in the beginning. By limiting her options, which were leave and live on the street or go get help at a drug rehabilitation center – I am so glad she always chose to get help. I had to find the strength to give the options and be convicted in knowing, and letting her know, that there were only those two options. I wonder if I had not given the options if she would still be struggling in her addiction instead flourishing in recovery. For me, when things fell apart, it was when I was propelled into action. It is a difficult juncture to be at, but you end up there and it is then when you realize you can’t remain or go back, but you must forge ahead and take action.

Just Say “Oh” to Your Addicted Child

When you discover that your child is chemically dependent on drugs/alcohol, it’s often time to build or rebuild some healthy boundaries.  For me, that bolstering began as I tried to resuscitate the word “No,” which had mysteriously disappeared from my vocabulary.  I literally had to practice saying “No” to my child in my mind’s eye for almost a year before I could say it with conviction, and make it stick.  And that’s important:  Don’t say “No” if you are unable or unwilling to enforce it,  or it will be yet another empty threat.

As they say in Al-Anon, “No” is a complete sentence.  Possible alternative responses to incessant or unreasonable demands for money, trust or leeway include, “Let me think about that overnight,” or “Ohhh.  Hmmm….” When harangued by a child who is used to your waffling in the past, you might also say, “I have changed, and that is not OK with me anymore.”  And then walk away from the fight.

I also found it helpful to adorn a gray plastic shield with a banner proclaiming “Genuine Shit Shield, Just Say ‘Oh.’”  I carried that shield in my mind’s eye to fortify myself against the torrent of rage that I knew would be unleashed by my newfound courage. My mother-of-addict friends borrowed the Shit Shield, and it gave us a collective sense of empowerment (plus a much-needed infusion of comic relief) as it made the rounds through our home.

It takes a lot of backbone and practice to stick up for yourself; honestly, it is so much easier to cave in and avoid a confrontation. That’s why holding firm is called Tough Love, and it’s clearly the healthy thing for both you and your beloved child.  For assistance with boundary issues, check out our “Boundaries Meeting in a Box.”

Will he get treatment and recovery because I want him to?

A strange thing happened when my sons became teenagers.  My influence and power over them was weak and I did not know it.  There were incidences that woke me from my ignorance and denial.  For example, the time I wanted so badly for him to get into a drug rehabilitation facility and get fixed.  Not 30 days had past when the relapse call came from the facility owner.  He attempted to explain the complexity of addiction, and suggested my son would need additional time – to me the translation was more dollars and the amount was shocking.  I was frustrated because “relapse” was as simple as breaking the house rules at my expense!  Didn’t he get it?  I needed my son to take this seriously and he wasn’t.  There was much resentment in this dance.  The 2nd incident was… and the third incident was…and so it went over and over.  Me?  I was expecting a different result.

An odd thing happened when I surrendered and accepted that I had little influence and no power over my sons or anyone else for that matter.  A New Year rang in with some serious consequences from the actions taken by my loved ones to support their addiction.  By now I had learned a great deal about disease, the family disease and my relation in it.   I embraced the year with an open mind.  I felt fear and sadness and a true sense of powerlessness.  Powerless but not helpless, I was able to face whatever adversity that presented itself and there were plenty yet to be revealed.  My old thinking and actions were of little use to me anymore.  The fear was not paralyzing.  This time I had faith and belief in a Power, greater than me.

I do not know where life will lead my son, but one thing is certain: his recovery is something he will have to want with an urge and desire all of his own making, independent of me.  And each New Year reminds me that I have choices in my actions of loving someone whose disease is powerful, terrible, deadly and progressive.  This disease also has another side:  Recovery, growth, spirituality, human-kindness, vulnerability, love, gratitude and honesty – will he chose it?  Not because I want him to.

On Cameron Douglas and Prison for Addicts

Cameron Douglas, son of actor Michael Douglas, is serving an extended sentence for drug distribution and heroin possession. He is 33 years old and began injecting heroin daily in his mid 20s. He has not received treatment in prison, and according to this NY Times Article on 5/21/12, “is a textbook example of someone suffering from untreated opioid dependence [for whom] more prison time would do nothing to solve his underlying problems.”

Treating any illness or disease with punishment is not the answer.  Sure there are plenty of examples where drug dealers should be in prison.  Especially when violence is involved.  Still, if someone turns to violence or drug dealing or prostitution to feed an addiction there should be medical treatment as part of their reform.

The State of California spent a lot of time and money to change their name from “The California Department of Corrections” to add ” . . and Rehabilitation” to the end.  It appears that all they did was change the name.  What changed behind the walls?

According to the CDCR website, on June 1st of this year, “Twenty-seven inmates from California State Prison-Solano today received certifications that will eventually enable them to counsel other inmates in addiction treatment programs for alcohol and drug abuse.” This is something; a start.

The State Prison Corcoran is supposed to work with substance abuse treatment, but it would appear that the availability of this is spotty and the success of these programs is uncertain. Opportunities for rehabilitation are primarily voluntary programs the prisoners can choose to join.

From what I hear, getting drugs in prison is easier than getting a steak.  The Times article about Douglas explained that Douglas got his incarceration duration extended because people inside the prison supplied him drugs and he was caught with them. Heroin. Suboxone.

Addicts have an illness and to put things in perspective, think about what a cancer patient might do to obtain life saving drugs if they were denied.  Would you sell your body to survive?  When someone is deeply addicted, they have lost control of the ability to “just say no” and all you need to do is watch the withdrawal video of my son to understand that the drug addiction is controlling the body.

No addict ever said, “Hey, I’ll smoke that joint; snort that line; or take that pill and if I’m really good at it I’ll be addicted and robbing a liquor store within the year.”

These people have a medical condition that is being ignored, and this is what has motivated a group of physicians to file a brief on behalf of Douglas.

Prison systems could cut costs dramatically and reduce the rate of return offenders if they took the word “Rehabilitation” seriously and segregated addicts into treatment centers that were secure without the need to put them in the general population of murderers and rapists.

Rehabilitate or Incarcerate? Perhaps a combination of both for addicts who have broken the law is the answer because either we treat the wound or we pour salt in it.

 This post was reprinted with permission from Bradley V. DeHaven, author and activist on the epidemic abuse of prescription drugs.   Mr. DeHaven contributes heartfelt experience strength and hope as a Parent Pathway expert.

Phone tips help this mother in co-dependency

If you are like me, you grew up with a sense of duty and obligation to answer the telephone if it is ringing. It’s just not polite to ignore the incoming call! Over time, the phone became my life line to family members, employers, banks, or just shooting the breeze with a good friend. Then, with the advent of the voice mail and growth in technology, I could still get the news if I missed the call. I remember how great it was to be able to “phone home” and retrieve voice mail! The cell phone made it even better, taking care of business and personal outreach while away from the house.

In my home, the family disease of alcoholism and addiction progressed and transformed my telephone from a necessity of convenience to a powerful stress-inducing-power-booster to the agony of involvement. I wasn’t even aware of it. In recovery, I had to revisit who’s in charge and has control at my house: the telephone or me! This is an example of counter intuitive recovery training through a 12 Step Program – the telephone no longer is a luxury for living, for me it has morphed into an archenemy. Strategically placed in many rooms of the house, it often brings bad news.  The ring alone induces anxiety – who knew? I got some tips along the way:

1. Don’t answer the telephone just because it’s ringing or vibrating. You have the power to decide if and when you want to be disrupted by a caller (most people leave voice mail if it’s important)

2. If it’s someone with a crisis, I don’t have to commit to anything without waiting a day or two. I do better if I buy some time before I react because I tend to want to help you with anything.

3. Stop dialing for pain – calling them just to “hear their voice” because I was worried may sound like a good idea, but 9 times out of 10, I regretted it.

4. Unplug the phone at night (worried about an elderly parent? Ask a sibling, neighbor, close friend to be on night call). Truth is, without sleep, I’m no good for anyone.

5. Revisit that answering machine. My cell phone is the “call to” number for family and friends. Who’s leaving voice mail on my house phone? Creditors, bail bonds, Global Tel-link, Politicians, marketing solicitations, strangers – no one for me. Sometimes I employ #1 above and in so doing, I get to hear them leave the message and then I have to re-play the message (hearing it yet again) before I can delete the message! Double the pleasure if you are into pain. See #3 above!

6. Do I really need a telephone at all? I’m not just “dialing for pain” – I’m paying for pain once a month! Note to self: Re-visit the telephone!