It’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.
As a mother whose young one struggled, it became easy to compromise on limits previously set. Not really sure why he was struggling years later he admitted he might have a drug problem. But he struggled, this was crystal clear. It made sense to rearrange my time for him. He just wasn’t capable! Soon, I was compromising on other areas of my life. Then other matters important to me would be postponed. Leisure time, family time and even self-care had to be set aside so that I could focus on him and the issues that were increasing in intensity I took on more responsibility and heavier burdens for the convenience of the addict. At some point, there grew situations that I began to accept, things that before, would never have been allowed. An addict will steal your jewelry, lie about it, and then help you look for it. Addiction showed up at the door with Insanity in tow.
Unknowing my love could not save my loved ones, I tried many things. Tired and worn out because of the roles I held: chauffeur cook, life coach, detective, night watchman, banker, nurse, psychologist and lawyer, to name some, I began to question my parental ability. This was because I believed I had control over what he did.
My part in the mother-addict-child dynamic played out for another few years. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, knowing the result…and doing it anyway!
Oddly, it was when I could not do it anymore that I sought out help for my situation…HELP ME HELP HIM was my plea. It never occurred to me that maybe I had a problem too. Even though my actions and feelings could be labeled INSANE, I clearly could justify it. I later learned this is classic, fear-based controlling behavior symptomatic in co-dependent relationships. AKA family disease. Knock Knock.
I still experience strong emotions when people (landlords, relatives, employers, friends) contact me about a status or question about one of my sons. There’s a lot of collateral damage floating around out there and it pops up from time to time. The reality is their drug addiction left untreated progressed to typical outcomes: irresponsibility, vagabond lifestyles, and, in some instances, drug related crime. As a result, I’m left standing as the only viable source for information – apparently. It’s been a few years since the extreme drama and the intensity and duration of the feelings I get may have decreased, but not entirely – I never know when something or someone can trigger a relapse. I’m hard wired to default to a defensive position. Knowing that, I have tools to use that are healthier. Put simply, I quit taking it personally.
Just the other day 2 squad cars and uniformed officers approached my front door looking for my son who is currently incarcerated. I don’t have control over that. They came to my house and I have to “deal with them.” My feelings are a force within, so strong I’m momentarily fraught. I’ve come to understand this is a common experience for a parent whose child’s early adult years are plagued with substance abuse and left untreated lead to stronger co-dependency behavior.
Today, I’m better at handling the “outside my control” matters. I’m able to distinguish what’s my business and more importantly, what’s not. The feelings of “what will the neighbors think” are still there, but I know that what other people think of me is ALSO NOT MY BUSINESS. The thoughts of “don’t you guys have computers to look someone up?” are still there. But just because I think it doesn’t mean I have to tell them how to do their job! It’s not my business!
Because of healthy boundaries, a strong program of recovery and a Higher Power in my life, I have learned that I can be respectful and guarded versus the sick, reactionary, raging co-dependent that I once was. This is all about my own recovery from my affliction of the family disease of co-dependency.
I am affected by someone else’s drug addiction. Addiction and alcoholism was not a part of my life growing up. It happened to other families and far away. I did not know anything about 12-Step programs such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and certainly not anything about Al-Anon or Nar-Anon and the “family disease”. Then, when my sons reached late teens, I searched for help because my attempts to control, diffuse, deflect, manage, assist, help or buy a temporary fix to their risky behavior was failing miserably. My life was getting out of control the more I tried to control them. I thought I was researching a solution to fix their problem and in so doing, I discovered I had a problem too. I was obsessed with what they were doing. This obsession has a name: co-dependency. So the help that I sought turned out to be a life-rope for me too.
In a 12-Step program that helps those who have been affected by someone else’s drinking, it is suggested you learn as much as you can about the disease. In so doing, I learned the hard reality: Alcoholism and addiction, if untreated, will lead to incarceration or death. I knew addiction was a serious problem but I didn’t know the full story. I also did not know what to do or how to help. I did not realize it was a disease. Using conventional wisdom, my mothering tendencies were not helping and in some cases were actually harming them. This kind of relationship has a name: Family disease.
The Al-Anon Family Groups taught me how to be a loving mother and still enjoy life. I learned that I did not cause the disease, could not control the disease or cure it. I continue to gain tools to help me overcome the devastating effects of this family disease. This could only happen with the experience and kindness of others who have gone before me and for this I am thankful.
As a new mother, I was amazed and in awe of the miracle of life. I was humbled to be sent home from the hospital with no instructions or permits – carrying my infant son in my arms. Turns out no one got instructions –parenthood is partly innate and part of a bigger community. As they grew older, I did not like seeing my child hurt, struggle, or even lose at basketball tryouts. However, I endured seeing those things happen, knowing in part, these were all necessary events that build character and strength. With a disease like addiction, it was a different story. This was an unnecessary event – a preventable occurrence in many instances and I spent years trying to bring back time. If only I could have a do-over.
The curious dynamic of addiction and co-dependency is like motherhood on steroids. Side effects of steroids are very serious. I’m grateful for the support groups and professional help that were available to me. Like the trip from the hospital, there is no handbook or chapter on how to handle addiction in a love one. But there are communities of many who have gone through similar circumstances. They have discovered ways for healthy coping, tools to effectively support their loved ones while still keeping a boundary that protects all parties involved. No one told me I’d get over it…I was shown that I could live life fully, be the best mother I can be and embrace life on life’s terms each day I’m part of. Recovery from the family disease is partly innate and part of a bigger community. For more information on resources for parents, click here.
I accept that sometimes I am not able to see things as they really are; this is part of my condition from the family disease. If I’m aware of the situation, I can reflect before doing anything. I can ask myself, “is this something I have control over”? If I choose to engage, are the results going to out-weigh the consequences of it? Once I’ve got the awareness figured out, there is acceptance. I accept that “you do not agree with me” or “you may be right!” or “the situation has nothing to do with me” or “it’s none of my business”. Acceptance does not always mean approval. I can accept where my sons are today, but I don’t have to like it. When I think before I act, I find I have more choices in the relationships I’m in. It can be in the form of no action at all, stalling, saying no, setting boundaries, removing myself from the situation, turning to my Higher Power for guidance or calling someone to talk things over and reason things out. I have learned that if I am at dis-ease over something, I must look inward to my own character traits that are allowing me to feel this way. I have control over how I react to people, places and things – but I’m powerless over “THEM”.
I used to be a reactionary person. This old behavior never once helped me. I would be angry, upset, resentful, impatient and tired from wasted energy. Today, my relationship with my sons, my family and friends is based on respect and acceptance – especially in difficult situations.
I used to think detachment was a form of indifference – Today, I believe it’s just the opposite. Detachment is preceded by acceptance. It was a slow evolution in changing how I think. For a long time I did not want to accept my sons were in trouble with drugs. How could I detach if I falsely believed there wasn’t a problem? Each time I tried to fix them; buy off their debt, provide transportation, fret and fume over another bad news episode, it only got worse. I found myself befuddled, broke and disappointed. But how could I detach if I did not accept I had no control over them?
Detachment is a common word in and around the dynamics of the family disease. The notion of detaching was frightening – the unknown of letting go. Thinking it was not a loving, kind or caring thing for a mother to do when confronted with her young adult child’s substance abuse. Fearful that if I did detach then something really bad would happen. I had to get over myself and the fears I conjured up. Truth was, bad things were happening anyhow and I had not power over it. Once I accepted that, it became easier to let go.
Detachment has become a healthy and sincere act for those I care about. It shows up as unconditional love – quite the opposite of indifference.
My kids suffering always pushed my rescue buttons! And with the progressive nature of the Family Disease, my mom-ma bear protection became ineffective and was my first defeat in my war on addiction. Too cunning and baffling, the serious trouble drugs and alcohol created for all of us required counter-intuitive measures. What’s right is wrong, what’s up is down; it was as if I had taken a tumble through the looking glass. Yet oddly enough, nonsense became logic when looked at differently. I took a different turn and my willingness to try and see things in an unfamiliar way would ultimately be the best thing I could do.
These offensive measures were like being on a hike in uncharted wilderness; the trail markers are Jabberwocky: confusing or missing completely. I would have to believe on other signs to keep the right course. I could use recovery tools that were around me, my Higher Power and my hiking partner to strategize. As hard as it is, as unnatural as it feels, if I wanted to shorten the path to a recovery turnoff, my complete dependence on familiar trail markers would have to change. The “I love you so I won’t…” path was the treacherous climb out of the steep canyon. In small increments I could see sane things reappear in my life. The trail head was always there.
For a long time I did not understand how my loved one’s substance abuse was my problem. In fact, I was quick to point out that they were the ones with the problem, not me! Then I heard an analogy of the how this family disease works. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out. If you put a frog in tepid water and slowly turn up the heat, it will cook to death because it did not recognize the change in temperature was in fact lethal. True or not, the story has been used in 12-step rooms to illustrate the family disease. Alcoholics Anonymous has recognized the family disease since inception, but oddly, there is limited research to support the family disease model. Nonetheless, professionals in the treatment community often look at substance abuse as a disease that affects the entire family. Many professionals suggest the family attend a 12-Step meeting. Another term equated with the family disease is codependency, a condition that develops in relationships where the non-addicted person enables the abuser to continue. According to Wikipedia, “Codependency describes behavior, thoughts and feelings that go beyond normal kinds of self-sacrifice or care taking.”
It took a long time for me to understand this “family disease” notion. I could not deny the similarities of other people in like-situations. Like me, their loved one’s drinking and drugging was upsetting them (to put it mildly). We seemed to share the same symptoms. Upon hearing the frog in boiling water story, it clicked. As the heat turned up, my reaction was to normalize and cope with increasingly bizarre and unacceptable behavior. There were “incidences” that were escalating, but I casually excused it – “Oh, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” As time passed, no matter how bad the chaos and insanity really was, I did not feel the temperature rise!
Eventually, with help, I realized my inability to control them (denying the temperature change) and that I was going to boil to death. My rescuing behavior created an environment that made it easier for them to continue. I was hurting not only them, but myself and others around me too. It was time to jump out of the pot!
When my son was younger and I was ignorant about addiction, I was in disbelief he’d be stealing and shocked at the lies. Then I was terrified he’d be arrested or worse. I truly felt I had the power to rescue, if he’d just listen and do what I told him to do. I could not understand why he would not! He’d say he was, he’d say all the right things, but I learned that this was a ploy to get me off his back. His addiction was in charge. Sometimes he meant what he said, but an addict is untrustworthy and he’d end up doing something different. The reality for me about the seriousness of the situation was when I finally understood addiction is a disease and it’s progressive in nature. This explained why no matter what I did, things got worse. There was no way I could keep subsidizing his addiction, he was pouring through money – mine and then others. Each time I thought I’d solve a problem of his, 10 more appeared. The madness seemed never ending. There are no words to describe feeling helpless and desperate. Eventually I found my own 12 Step Recovery program; first through my medical insurance, then Nar-Anon and Al-Anon. This helped me get over the fear, guilt and agony of involvement. This is where I learned how to make reasonable decisions and let go of worry – where I found hope and to discover - it begins with me.