I’m one of those people who struggle with remembering names. I learned in a sales class that using an association with the name helps in recall. For example, I’m introduced to Betty. She has dark, jet black/blue hair. I think of Archie Comic Books, Veronica & Betty. Betty has Veronica’s hair! This amount of time devoted to remembering Betty has only been a few seconds but is somehow lodged in my brain to not forget Jet Black/Blue Hair Betty.
Association comes in handy on other areas of my life, especially when my fears and concerns about my adult children take over my thoughts. These thoughts tend to be negative and are always masked under the cloak of good mothering. I will forget all that I’ve learned about my stinking thinking. I find myself worrying and wondering if he is cold, alone, hungry, hurt and a host of other terrible things. And to add injury, I’ll invite responses to vindicate my negative concerns. I may resort to rescuing and have completely relapsed into codependency. Such behavior is odd when seen from the outside, but for those of us who have a child struggle in addiction or alcoholism; this is how we roll. And it is here I’m triggered to ask myself if I’m doing anyone any good, especially for myself. I’m acting out of self preservation from fear, not the supportive and accepting, loving mother I strive to be. What am I forgetting?
Mothering rhymes with smothering.
My fears and worries turn mothering into smothering. I don’t want to suffocate anyone. I’m not proud to add guilt to someone’s low self esteem and today I have tools to help me navigate out of my own stinking thinking.
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.
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.
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.
I’m amazed how the power of situations can trigger the flight or fight response of my nervous system. These ordinary situations for most people are uneventful. For me, they are perceived differently. I’m sure it’s a phenomenon of loving someone struggling with substance abuse. The drive to correct their behavior becomes a life or death mission of impossible. And many years in the trenches has had consequences.
Triggers are everywhere for me: the sight of a homeless person, a news story of a standoff, or the sound of a siren; all flashbacks to an event I imagine my sons have been. Driving home one night a police officer had pulled someone over; the lights were bright and ominous I glimpsed at the “suspect’s” car, where is my son right now? Is that his car? A moment of panic sets in and fear takes over. When my phone rings from an unknown caller, or my doorbell sounds, my first sense is trouble. An elderly resident at a retirement community shares their sad story of having their home burglarized so many times, they sell and move. This shakes me up. My sense of guilt that it could have been someone I know who is searching for saleable items to feed their addiction.
It’s as if my brain evolved pathways of neurons that trigger cues around me into guilt, angst, unfounded responsibility, and un-needed adrenaline. Resources are there for people like me but I had to first admit I could not solve this on my own.
Recovery is learning to act and think differently in similar situations. New thinking happens over time, but I’m convinced there is a biological restructure of neurons in my brain. Old triggers no longer take me hostage as new pathways to serenity have formed.
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.
Freedom from controlling behavior, for a co-dependent like me, can be tricky. I have to ask myself if there are motives behind my actions. Am I passively aggressively trying to manipulate an outcome? For example, by saying to my son while he’s in the throes of his addiction, that I won’t be lending money or my car, buying him this or that, or “fill in the blank,” am I trying to manipulate him into sobriety by withholding something? In the end, this “standing new ground” might be just another form of cleverly disguised control.
As I slowly learn to make decisions based on what’s right for me, I can relinquish the impact on others ….what they will or will not do is no longer my primary focus.
There was a time I paid the auto insurance premiums for my twenty-something son. There were motives behind it and when he did not “perform to my standards” I became resentful. First, it was an inconvenience. I had to trek over to CSAA each month and make this payment. Why wasn’t he doing anything to demonstrate he would be handling it on his own? I noticed he was freely eating out most every day or going to Starbucks. I’d quietly count the money he could be saving for…car insurance! Was he even grateful for what I did? Then, I’d rationalize that if I did not pay it and he got into an altercation, I would feel terrible. What if he got in to an accident? What if he relapsed? It was important to me that he had coverage because I was fearful of what could happen to him without it.
This getting overly involved in my loved one’s affairs because of my fears about a future unknown event is a common symptom of co-dependency. My fears were squeezing him further, damaging and unproductive. Learning to distinguish my responsibility from his responsibility has become a huge milestone in busting the co-dependent grasp.
For parents whose children struggle with substance abuse, the New Year gives us an opportunity to start fresh and welcome new, healthier attitudes or behaviors. But what happens if we find ourselves clenching grief or loss so tightly that we cannot embrace happiness or joy? Ricki Townsend, a Parent Pathway “Expert,” grief counselor and interventionist, shares some ideas about letting go of grief.
“We have dreams and hopes for our children as they grow and discover life. Then one day we wake up to find they have become involved in the battle of addiction. And so our life as we hoped it would be has changed. As parents, we may find we have trouble sleeping, we may start to have health issues, we may find ourselves crying or even angry over the simplest of things. Please look at the possibility that you are grieving the loss of your child as you knew him or her.
Grief and loss are naturally interwoven into addiction. Grief is different for each one of us, but please don’t discount it. We put so much energy into getting back our child that we often forget about ourselves. Here are some ways to deal with your grief:
- If you acknowledge that you are grieving, I invite you to work through the grieving process with a counselor who will help you understand your losses and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.
- Grief can feel suffocating. A good exercise to release grief is to take a very deep breath, hold it tightly and then release it slowly. You will feel your body calm down. It is also therapeutic to cry in the shower or yell in the car or smash pillows with a tennis racquet—anything physical to vent your sorrow, your anger, your disappointment.
- You might also want to write a letter to whatever is running your life—addiciton, fear, remorse—and tell it that you are taking back your life. You can also write down your sorrows and regrets and burn them in a fireplace or “burning bowl.” The important thing is to symbolically purge your “if only’s” so that you can free yourself to live more in the moment.
- There are also some great books that will help support recovery. Check out The
Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman or The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson.
It is up to each of us to ‘push the clouds away’ in order to be happy. Don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t become a victim—you have the power to reclaim your serenity. If you have questions about grief or any other substance abuse issues, please feel free to send me your questions. Best wishes for a healthy New Year.”
Ricki Townsend, NAADAC, interventionist and family counselor
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.
When in Maui we were kayaking with a guide. We were following the whales, a few had surfaced. A person called out, “what if we get too close?” The guide responded, “The whale is going to do what whales do, with or without us.” There’s a bit of vulnerability I feel when kayaking and I have had similar feelings under the hypnotic power of addiction!
I recalled a time during the early phases of my eldest where we made a decision to detach both emotionally and financially. We were no longer going to pay for his apartment, car insurance, school tuition for classes he was failing and books he’d purchase and re-sell for money. We knew he was coming into our house while we were away at work. We knew he was doing business at the pawn shop, and we knew there was a whole lot more we didn’t know. We told him we believed he had a drug problem having no idea that addiction is a disease.
The fear of how he would possibly make it on his own was overwhelming for me. I just believed he could not do it without me. I was having trouble letting go. Turns out, he was going to do what he was going to do, with or without my input! I just needed to stay on my boat.
Having to tell him he no longer was welcome to come to our house without our invitation, that he must call us first, was the hardest thing to do. It was painful but sometimes the right thing to do is not the easiest or best feeling, when doing it. The angst and vision of what would happen never materialized to the dramatic end I dreamed up. That drama was my own. I’d say “how can he make it out there on his own” but the truth was I did not know how I’d cope without him in my life and that was a risk I was facing.