I panicked at first when a mom who knew about my circumstance reached out to me. Would I be able to help her? How could I smooth things over when I know outcomes may not be great? Was it even my business to try? I have grown a great deal in my 12 step recovery program of Al-Anon Family Groups but I’m not perfect. I re-wound my history playbook recalling my own experience of the “son-in-prison powerlessness”. He had fainted in the shower room and cut his head. Word was he’d been transferred to a hospital. No one “inside” knew his status or even what happened. That helpless and hopeless feeling of not knowing! I have uncontrollable mother bear instincts! Unlike when he was 8 years old at the lake and had fainted on a rock outcropping…the children yelling for help, his dad and I frantically swimming to his rescue…in desperation, I could not help this time. My fear! My panic! The “must do something” response and immediate reaction to save him! Back to present State Corrections Department and my powerlessness, I later found on the website an inmate/family liaison contact and I emailed them. Days later someone responded! I wanted to know if he was alright and my Higher Power answered me – “he’s OK!”
Having shared with this mom, days later she thanked me for listening. Realizing there were some options in the prison industry that worked for me, she found someone to assist her situation. I learned that not being able to do something right away has merit for my life lessons in recovery from the family disease. I have learned in Al-Anon the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and then Action. That “must do something” response is really unfiltered “reaction” and no longer serves me well. Today I have choices once I step back and get awareness of the situation. I had the same feelings to help this mom. I’m aware that my urge to immediately help is an unconscious response and I don’t need to act on it. I can accept that feelings are not facts. It is here that my action, if any, will be more appropriate and often results in positive outcomes.
I think of my journey through the Land of Addiction to walking through a pitch-black forest in the dead of night. Tree branches snagged my clothing, I stumbled over gnarly roots and animals bared their teeth. I couldn’t see these dangers, but I could sense them. They haunted me night and day.
At the same time, I also experienced the kindness of others who reached out to me and, like a fireman’s bucket brigade, passed me ahead to the next set of helping hands. These hands were the hands of wisdom, compassion and sisterhood. Sometimes they belonged to real live people who had navigated through the black woods before me; sometimes it was the wise hands of authors who supported and guided me.
Here are some of the most powerful books I’ve encountered along the way, in no particular order:
The Lost Years by Christina Wandzilak describes a daughter’s addiction and recovery from the perspective of both mother and child.
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, a dad’s memoirs and self-discoveries as his son struggles with a meth addiction and he struggles with his own deadly co-dependency.
The Mood Cure by Julia Ross provides critical information about the nutritional foundation of recovery.
Saving Jake – When Addiction Hits Home by D’Anne Burwell. This articulate chronicle of a young man’s chemical dependency could be written by so many of us: a loving family, a talented child, the search for answers, the hope of recovery. The book is sprinkled with resources and evidence-based information about the epidemic of chemical dependency that is gripping our nation.
There is a recurring fear my son, who struggles today with addiction, will get into more trouble, hurt someone, or hurt himself. These feelings of anxiousness happen to me randomly after long period of time where I haven’t heard from him. My sick mind tells me no news is bad news because before, I used to say no news is good news and that wasn’t true! My sick mind tells me doom & gloom is around the corner, “any day now.” My sick mind wants to get into my sons’ business because my sick mind tells me he can’t manage without me.
My healthy mind tells me it’s OK to love my son, be concerned, hope for the best. My healthy mind tells me that I did not cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it. My healthy mind reminds me to keep to my own business, that sticking my nose into his affairs will muck things up – I may not like what I see and not accept him as he is. Then I’ll behave badly and not be the loving mother I want to be. My healthy mind assures me that my son is where he is supposed to be, and he is smart & resourceful.
My healthy mind is healthy because of my program, the Al-Anon program, which keeps me grounded and clear about what’s mine and what isn’t. My program reminds me that there is a Power greater than me that can restore me to sanity and my son also has a Power greater than me to restore him to sanity. I’m not in charge!
The curious nature of not knowing to a co-dependent like me encourages my monkey brain to project the future and replace my present moments with worry and fret. I’ve been there too many times, and today I can accept the truth: Not knowing does not mean bad or good karma or that my son purposely keeps me in the dark. Not knowing is just that, nothing more nothing less. Any kind of eventuality outside of my control I am powerless over. I can detach from the monkey brain, get back in to Today and trust in that Power.
I remember when I had to ask my son to leave after many months of not living with integrity in my home.
That was the hardest winter I believe, I have ever gone through. Yes, it hurt not knowing where he was staying. Yes, back then I felt -how could I even survive it? So the only thing I could do was to start living one day at a time. I did this by paying attention to my health. I started going to more of my own AA meetings, and became very involved in my Al-Anon meetings. I started walking the neighborhood every day for 40 minutes.
I read. I prayed. And many – many days I would go to sleep crying. I can tell you on two occasions I actually woke up with tears flowing down my cheeks. I had dreamt about my son.
I am not saying it is easy. It certainly is not. But honestly, what was the alternative? This is what I learned for myself. To live by fear??? Fear of what I would find when I came home from work??
After many things had happened I finally realized I wanted my life back. I wanted my safe haven back. My home. I also knew if their was a chance, I wanted my son back. Eventually at the end of winter, sleeping in the park, on friends couches, and in the back seat of their cars, I finally got that phone call. “Mom, I want help, can I come home?” I picked him up and the next day my son was in treatment.
I pray for all of you that the pain in your hearts become less and less.
I sometimes ponder how quickly my fear and sadness of having a child with a drug problem resulted in my own physical issues: The teeth grinding at night, hair loss, weight gain, and high blood pressure to name a few. Initially, throwing quick fixes to the symptoms has had high costs: dental work, medical bills and revenue recovery.
With righteous indignation, I had plenty of excuses. If you walked in my shoes, you might understand why. It was easy to blame THEM for what THEY were putting me through. To add insult to injury, the disease of addiction and alcoholism were also affecting my immediate family and I resented that too.
But further contemplation while working the 12 steps of Al-Anon has shown me that I am better off doing a self-examination of myself, my motives and reasons. I had to relearn how to take ownership of my own actions and quit already with the excuses.
My attitude, if left unchecked, models the addict/alcoholic. I can easily blame others and have a distorted view on life. When I take the focus off THEM and work my own program of recovery, I am given gifts beyond measure. Here, true rehabilitation begins at the root cause – ME. I am able to deflect and change the course of how I feel both emotionally and physically.
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.
It all starts with a thought. The thought creates a feeling. Feelings are not necessarily factual. For example, if I say to myself, “Tonight, I’m going to go out for dinner,” I begin to feel hungry and excited that I will get to be served with a meal that I really enjoy. My feelings change physiological conditions in my body. Maybe I begin to wear the Cheshire grin in anticipation or I might even be emitting endorphins, those “feel good” brain chemicals which in turn flood my veins resulting in a natural high. But the truth is, I might not be going out to dinner at all! It’s just a thought!
Loving someone whose substance abuse has led to terrible consequences resulted in a problem for me with regards to my thinking. My thoughts turned from optimistic to obsessive thinking about them. Eventually I began to be pessimistic about everything. I became overtaken by the gloom and doom that drug abuse causes. This is called the family disease of addiction. These negative thoughts also impact my feelings. I’m worried, sad, fearful and anxious. With these kinds of feelings, my body takes on a dangerous reaction: high blood pressure, weight gain, blood sugar peaks, teeth grinding. My sleep was fitful and my ability to concentrate at work became problematic.
I found out this kind of circuitry can be interrupted with the power of my mind. I can choose to find help to get the tools necessary to regain control of my own thoughts! I also can choose to do nothing. The difference between these two statements: “Things upset me” versus “I upset me” are the most powerful thoughts to which my life goes one way or the other.
I had heard in recovery rooms that when I take responsibility for my loved ones, I am robbing them of the dignity they deserve to experience life on their own. When I continue to harp, beg, plea, judge or offer advice, I’m ultimately in their business, trying to force solutions and eventually will lose their respect. Worse, I could be adding to the bad opinion they already have about themselves.
This is not the mother I wanted to be! How could I be concerned but not consumed? How was it possible to love them unconditionally when my fear for their life was at stake? I was so obsessed with their problems, thinking I knew the answer; I would bring home pamphlets from on Alcoholics Anonymous and leave the literature scattered around the house in hopes they would pick it up and see the light! That never worked either.
After being in Al-Anon for a while, I eventually learned tools to keep the focus on me and stay out of their business. Slowly I began to see results. One example I still remember to this day was when my son called and asked if he could come over for dinner and “talk.” Many recent events had happened that were concerning – I was well aware of where he was: jobless, homeless and alone. I was a little apprehensive, wondering what news he would bring this time. After a nice dinner with general conversation, he shared that he thought he might have a drinking problem. Oddly, I was elated to hear him admit a problem. There were 3 things I was able to do that day that made me proud of my program. I said “oh” which helped me compose my thoughts before blurting out something hurtful or unnecessary. The next thing out of my mouth was that I did not know if he was an alcoholic or not but that there were people who could help him learn about it and that I might still have their pamphlet. (I prayed I still had all the literature long put away). When he was getting ready to leave and I had no idea where he was staying (in his car?) I let him know how much I loved him and that I hoped to see him soon.
The most important lesson for me was that by being non-judgmental, not pretending to know the answer, and further, not turning his confidence into a nagging session, I was able to be the mother I want to always be: RESPECTFUL, CARING, and LOVING. I helped where I could then I allowed him to decide what he would do with it. Then I turned it over to my Higher Power, as I placed my son’s name into my God Box later that night. This released me from obsessive thoughts of worry that before had consumed me.
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