My obsession with (fill in the blanks) affects all my children

There was a time I used the siblings to debrief my anguish and worry about the other “one” – the child whose absence or drama was taking center stage and getting my full attention. Unaware of how damaging this would be to the remaining family members, I did this for a long time.   The realization that my actions might have contributed to a form of suffering on them was a hard nut to swallow.  I had to learn it the hard way; it seems to be a recurring theme for me. I first pondered the notion when listening to Alateens share their hurt, abandonment and other issues they kept to themselves while watching mom or dad get progressively worse in their futile attempts to straighten up the “affected” one’s life. I’d hear how some would become overly protective and sometimes take the role of caretaker, worried about the troubled sibling. Some would get resentful about all the attention given to the other.  The entanglement of the family disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. To the “normal” sibling, the desire for mom and dad to get happy again would become their focus.  So, in a sense, young co-dependents were forming as the family disease reached epidemic proportions.  I wondered which role my children fell into.

Becoming aware didn’t actually help me with how to do better…the Al-Anon Family Group and 12 step recovery program was my road map for change. I had to start over with training wheels, in a sense, beginning with me and my contributions to the family disease.   It began with accepting I had problems of my own to work on. The hope for me was that I could mend broken relations with all those who mattered in my life.

Today, with guarded mouth and awareness of the family disease, I try to keep the focus and be present with those who stand before me. I no longer ask prying questions about the “other” one whose lifestyle is concerning. I consciously choose to seize those opportunities with gratitude to be allowed the accompaniment of their presence. Most critically, I get to be PRESENT with no conditions and that is my GIFT to them.

Which way is not in the way of my child’s struggle with addiction?

bigstock-Right-Decision-Wrong-Decision-11944676 (2)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).

Doing or Not Doing – Detaching to move forward

detachment - moving forwardI’m  writing about detachment, my favorite topic.  In the family disease, I was completely sure the problem resided with THEM and did not realize how attached I was to THAT.   As we say, “turn the binoculars around!”  A simple concept does not come easy, it takes work.  DOING!   It begins with thinking about detachment in a new way.

The first relatable scenario for me was realizing how attached I became to inanimate objects.  Like the clothes in my closet for example.  I’m attached to them and can’t begin to let them go!  Never mind that they have not been worn or seen the light of day for years!  Never mind that they won’t fit well or even be in style.  Yet my closet is stuffed full, and there I stand with nothing to wear because I can’t see – too much clutter! There is a deep rooted fear (in my mind) that my “letting them go” will result in a definitive, almost instantaneous need for one of these articles I just gave away.  It’s a common misconception that removing something will leave a dark hole which translates to a negative emptiness.   I recall a time when I visualized an old article of clothing was just the right thing.  After digging deep into storage bins under the bed, I found, upon closer inspection; it was not at all appropriate or accurate to my memory of it!  Whatever the source or cause of my attachments, it tends to keep me NOT DOING, or holding on.  Sound familiar?  Doing or not doing.

And my attachment to dated clothing may trump the joy of new possibilities: NOT DOING has consequences!  Oddly, we feel safer there, because there will not be a hole.  Is the fear of missing something I bought years ago, worth holding onto?  If it were, I might be buried alive with STUFF.  So the seeds of  detachment can begin with simple measures of DOING something, maybe different, but nonetheless DOING.  There is a possibility the hole will be filled with light!

Parents of addicts/alcoholics: Fix yourself first

We learn how to parent from the way we were parented, for better and for worse.  If you grew up in a family where alcohol or other mood-altering substances played a starring role, you might have learned to keep the boat on an even keel by patching things up or smoothing things over.  Or maybe you looked the other way or simply retreated from the family drama and trauma.  Either way, those methods of coping can spill over from one generation to the next and influence the way we raise our own children.

How do you approach your child’s drinking and drugging?  If you are a “fixer,” you probably shelter the rest of the family from the errant child.  You carry the burden of his or her mistakes.   You enlist the siblings to clean up the messes, or you might even displace the blame onto the “good” siblings.  You keep your spouse in the dark about the missing money or jewelry.  You devote all your time and energy to making things right.

As you soldier on, you are inadvertently keeping the chemically-dependent child from assuming responsibility for poor choices.  As the Al-Anon “Open Letter from the Alcoholic” says,  “Don’t let your love and anxiety for me lead you into doing what I ought to do for myself. If you assume my responsibilities, you make my failure to assume them permanent. My sense of guilt will be increased, and you will feel resentful.” You will also be completely exhausted because you are singlehandedly trying to fix the unfixable:  only the addict/alcoholic can fix himself or herself.

Your job, then, is to fix yourself. To acknowledge that you cannot make your loved one better.  To work on understanding what compels you to keep trying to fix your child.  That quest will bring you wisdom and self-awareness that enriches your life in untold ways.  Your job is to take care of yourself. To treat yourself—to a moment of quiet contemplation in a park, to a meal with your spouse uninterrupted by crisis phone calls, to an evening of laughter with friends. To treat yourself well and, at the same time, give your child a reason to change.

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.

Just stay away from Grandma! Setting boundaries to help family members

This was a directive to my son (who paid no attention to my threats).  He was in his disease of addiction. He’d leave my house in a huff and go directly to Grandma’s house to swoon her over. Things changed drastically, and fast. It wasn’t long before I had grandma complaining to me about the lack of follow-through with my son. I would get the calls, inquires, concerns and complaints – as if I was the “Agent” representing and responsible to the community at large.  I took on this obligation because I believed it too, but  I was getting resentful. All I wished was that he’d stay away from Grandma because of how it was affecting me and the worry of her well being. Time would reveal the progressive nature of addiction and how the  family dynamics would get further strained – a symptom unique to addiction I subsequently learned.  Turns out I’m not the only co-dependent!

  • Parents: He’s got a drug problem and won’t go to rehab, we are learning more about addiction.
    • Grandma: He’s a good boy, “Once he starts working …”
  • Parents: We are not going to buy him another car, he isn’t insurable.
    • Grandma: I co-signed; I knew you would help with payments…
  • Parents: He cannot live in our house, he’s untrustworthy. We believe he has to experience discomfort before he will choose another way.
    • Grandma: He’s temporarily living in my home – we discussed my terms and it’s under control.
  • Parents: We’re concerned for grandma – she has opened her door and won’t listen to any reasoning!
    • Grandma: I can’t turn my back on him and THROW him to the streets!

After bringing Grandma to a few counseling sessions and I witnessed her sentiment I had once felt: Counseling is not giving me the answers I want to hear on how to fix him; therefore, this is a waste of time. I didn’t stop searching for answers. Desperation forced me to find further support and I landed in the Al-Anon Family Group. This is where I learned that I would have to employ boundaries in all my life’s affairs. I learned I could not control my son, his girlfriend, his grandmother, his landlord, his employer… any of THEM. I had choices, and being triangulated was something within my own ability to take control of if I wanted relief and serenity in my life. I found other grandparents in my support group that helped me understand their point of view. I learned compassion and understanding that this disease branches through the family tree, everyone is affected. I learned that the ones I love must decide for themselves, if they want to change, I can’t decide for them.

When the Unthinkable knocks on your front door

Unthinkable things sums up what happens to parents of drug addicts, at least in my world. Take for example, the phone call I got from a police officer of a special fugitive division. He was looking for my son and wanted my help. He knew my name; he knew all my family members’ names. We talked for 30 minutes about the perils my son faces – he’s concerned, he said. The last time he relapsed – pulled over for a traffic violation – he bolted. This “excites” police officers and the conversation turns to the dreaded, unthinkable – the likelihood that my son might do something that causes a police officer to fire his weapon. He might overdose, be killed by another junkie, and a host of other things. My mind already conjures up the worst case scenarios -these events are happening daily in my community. “You could rescue your son,” he threatens with fear. He suggested luring him in with the promise of money; they would wait around corners in undercover gear.

This put me in a strange, but familiar place. It reminded me of a time when I held onto the pseudo-belief that I have a lot of power and control over my son. With my own recovery from the family disease I know better. This is bigger than me and it’s not my business. Besides, there are always more outcomes than he presented – we don’t know. If I did these things, and my son was harmed as a result, would I be able to live with myself? If I didn’t do the sting operation and my son is killed on the street, would I be able to live with myself? Do I really have that much power?

I decided I would encourage my son to get help as I have always done, knowing this is his life and I’m not in control of it. That was if and when I would hear from him – he does not answer my calls either. Today I have a Power, greater than me that will guide me to a sane position. The perils of drug abuse, addiction and the disease related crimes by young people are unthinkable. And they progress. And their family, who love them beyond measure, can not save them with that love.

Addiction and alcoholism: a dark room were negatives are developed

1431793_97522247 resentmentIt’s been said resentments are the dark rooms where negatives are developed. This conjures up a great deal of truth about resentments – all negative. For me, it always came when my sons did not do what I expected and when it really mattered. I usually had a financial or emotional investment in the action I was anticipating. Commonly defined as an emotional feeling resulting from fear or imagined wrong doing, resentments always kept me hostage to negativity; anger, sadness, frustration, contempt, tension.

As I work through the resentments I have harvested with regards to the family disease, I can see where my obsession with the addicts in my life was consuming me and thwarting any possibility of joy and happiness. Depending on other people for things that really mattered to me was the driving force behind my resentments. Since my perspective was disproportionately misdirected, it was as if THEY were held in higher standards than where I held myself.  And my self worth was predicated on them…no wonder I spent so much time trying to control…

It’s been said the amount of time you spend thinking about something should be in this proportion: God first, me second, them 3rd! My understanding of resentments has come full circle, and though I do not find myself having these emotional feelings as much anymore, they are not far surfacing when life happens to throw a curve ball. The difference today is I have a better support system to help me accept what is going on. I have choices in how I react to it.

Try exploring how the expectations we have for our loved ones can set us up for happiness or sorrow in our Meetings in A Box: Expectations.  You may discover your own dark room were negatives are developed.  You may begin to ask what really matters.

 

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.

Finding Hope When Your Child’s Addiction Feels Hopeless

I found my first glimmer of hope when I finally mustered the strength to tell my son, “Choose rehab, or choose a life without your family. “ My hope did NOT arise from his response (which was three days in coming) but in the fact that I finally knew in my heart of hearts that things wouldn’t change unless we changed…and I garnered the strength and conviction to draw that line in the sand.

That strength and conviction had eluded me for so long because I was so afraid for my son. I was afraid that if I kicked him out, he would get hurt.   I was afraid he would get into even more trouble if he didn’t have somewhere to live.  I was afraid he would fall in with a bad crowd, which was such an unfounded fear because he was bad enough on his own.  And on some level, I rationalized that confronting his addiction—drawing a line in the sand—somehow made it more real.  I know that sounds strange, but a little voice in my head whispered that  if I didn’t need to kick him out, then his problem really wasn’t that bad, was it??  That’s denial at its best.

Once I mustered the strength to offer one or the other– drugs or family– then our family had a chance to get better, collectively and individually.  My son could choose to seek recovery and I could choose to deny entry to his substance abuse in my life.  When I claimed that power, I found a hope that sustains me, one day at a time, no matter what my son does or doesn’t do.