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.
I ran into a neighbor last night, and after the cursery greetings we both asked the question that tugged at our hearts: “How is your son doing?” Turns out, our kids had been living in parallel hells several years ago, courtesy of their chemical dependency. At the time, neither family knew what was going on right around the corner. We suffered in silence and isolation.
Last night, both boys were doing well–sober, working, working the 12 steps, back in school. It was a joyful gift to be able to share such good news with each other, knowing in retrospect the trauma that had unfolded in our lives. Will sobriety endure? Will our joy last? I can’t say…but what I do know is that the fragility of recovery casts each sober moment in a light of gratitude and appreciation.
Friends have told me about the gift of cancer in their lives, one that brings them extra appreciation for each cancer-free moment. I feel the same about addiction. An unwelcome intruder in my life, addiction reminds me to be appreciative. That is unquestionably much easier when my child is sober. When my son was in the depths of his addiction, I was in the depths of my despair. I wondered how I could be happy if he was so sick. It took tremendous work for me to detach from his illness and find my own serenity regardless of the choices he made. I still work on building that mental muscle each and every day. Days that are free of addiction and co-dependency are sweeter now than ever.
People who have long-term sobriety build it one day at a time. I’m building my long-term recovery, one day at a time.
PS. Check out our Meetings in a Box for help with detachment, finding serenity and more.
Did that title make you think you’d found the magic wand to saving your child? Guess what? You did. If you get healthier, chances are that your child will reclaim his or her health, too. And most importantly, you’ll be healthier if you follow some or all of these suggestions. So please consider these important steps to take on your own road to recovery:
- Find an Al-Anon meeting or Nar-Anon meeting near you (or online). You’ll find support, perspective and camaraderie there.
- Read Co-Dependent No More to learn how to sever the ties of co-dependency, which often plays a part in the family disease of substance abuse.
- Develop a support system of friends, spiritual advisors, doctors, counselors, or anyone else who can help you stay afloat.
- Learn everything you can about the brain disease of substance use disorder. It’s a disease, like cancer or diabetes. You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it.
- Surround yourself with positive people and things. Nourish your soul.
- It’s triage time. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Take care of your physical, financial and spiritual needs first.
- Develop tools to “turn off” the obsessions about your child. Whenever you begin to worry or dwell on your child (which does nothing but torture you), switch gears to a mantra like the Serenity Prayer or a simple affirmation of peace and hope.
- Read the Open Letter from an Alcoholic.
- Forgive yourself. What parent doesn’t want to be the best parent possible? We all do the best with what we have, and we need to learn to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. Our imperfections did not make our children addicts or alcoholics. Parents – even imperfect ones – are not powerful enough to create a brain disease. So forgive yourself for being human and concentrate instead on creating a healthier future for yourself and your family.
- Keep a gratitude journal, if only in your mind. Start every morning by looking for something to be grateful for, and close each day with an acknowledgement of thanks for the goodness in that day. It’s there, somewhere; and if you look for it, you’ll find it. When the things we focus on change, we change.
There are many gifts resulting from letting go of old thoughts, beliefs and non-truths. My experience is that the Letting-Go phenomenon follows acceptance. It’s a shift in thinking. If I accept that alcoholism is a disease, then I can let go of the ridiculous notion that I can control it. I then can let go of blame, shame and responsibility of other people’s predicaments. If I can accept that I cannot control people, then I can let go of rescuing, reasoning, judging, projecting and ultimately self defeating thoughts and actions. If I can let go of what other people think of me, then I can begin to accept who I am and not who I think you want me to be. Just the act of acceptance affords opportunities for me to change. Change doesn’t hurt. Resistance to change hurts. I’m quite sure it would be nice to be in a position to say my loved ones are doing well and in recovery, but that is not the case today. Because I can accept this fact today, I can let go of wanting what I don’t have. More importantly, I am very grateful for what I do have and this is just one by-product of my acceptance / letting- go experience
It is amazing how when one person changes, it affects everything around them. This can be both positive and not so positive. Think about when one person in a family comes home from work in a bad mood; it casts an instant shadow on the family. It can take a happy atmosphere to a place where everyone is quiet and removed trying to avoid the person in the foul mood. Or in some cases it causes conflict as personalities and moods clash for little to no reason. On the contrary, one person in an upbeat attitude can brighten a room. When someone in a good mood enters the house it can be uplifting for everyone. Often it is easier to point out the faults in others or throw out a comment like, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ Every now and then I hear the statement ‘you wake up every day and choose your attitude.’ We have control over whether we are going to face the day with grace and gratitude or whether we are going to be grouchy and grumpy.
When life in my house was tense and chaotic due to a loved one in addiction I kept hearing that when I begin to change, others would change around me. Then I kept hearing the slogan ‘let it begin with me.’ I began to make changes with various aspects of my relationships, both with the addicted loved one and others, by drawing boundaries and taking care of myself. It was nothing short of amazing to watch how this started to shift everything in my path. The more I took control of my attitude and shifted from victim to becoming empowered in my actions and attitude then the more my life became manageable. It is a simple concept yet difficult to break long time family patterns and behaviors. But step by step, little by little you can begin to shift to healthier ways. Today I chose grace and gratitude!
Discovering you have a chemically-dependent child is overwhelming. And if he or she is committed to recovery, there are big changes on the horizon for both of you. But where to begin? You can start by nibbling away at any co-dependent behaviors that have transformed your child’s problems into your problems. Here are some steps you can take:
- When you find yourself obsessing about your son or daughter, use that as a cue to switch gears. Call into action a mantra like the Serenity Prayer. Treat yourself to a coffee, some flowers, a phone call with a friend or a movie. Read a chapter from an inspirational website or book.
- Develop and practice a repertoire of expressions that you can use when your child hammers at you for solutions. In the past, you probably would have leaped into action to fix his or her problems; now, you can simply say, “Hmmm” or “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you” or “Oh” or “I’m sure you can figure that out.” Even “No” is a complete sentence.
- Start every day with the intention of finding joy, positivity and appreciation. And every night, write down three things you are grateful for in a gratitude journal. This will help you switch gears from loss to thankfulness.
- Finally, Julie “Brain Lady” Anderson writes about the ways that positive thinking can boost your immune system. If you can change the way you think, then you’ll be healthier inside and out. And you’ll be fortified for the challenges that a child’s substance use disorder creates for you and your family.
These tiny steps add up, one by one, day by day. At some point, you’ll be able to look back and see the progress you have made towards reclaiming your equilibrium. Hopefully, your beloved and chemically-dependent child will be able to do the same.
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it” –Groucho Marx
I saw this quote by Groucho Marx and thought what a wonderful mindset for the coming year. As the New Year begins we have a tendency to think about our resolutions to do things different, to be more focused, to get in shape, the list goes on. I have a different way of looking at the future since experiencing the journey through a loved one with addiction. I consider the year a success if everyone is kept safe, if my family has good health and if they are happy. I don’t fret over what I think will make them happy, I just hope that they know what will make them happy and they will pursue it. In the previous years when my daughter was active in her addiction I just wanted to be able to breathe. While that might sound crazy taking a deep breath was difficult when I was arrested with fear. Every time the phone rang I dreaded what crisis was on the other end of it.
So as the New Year begins I sit with complete gratitude for what is today and for the possibilities of the coming New Year. I still take time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the New Year. I do this from a place of gratitude. One of my resolutions for this New Year is to consciously list each day what I am grateful for. I started today and it is very rewarding and uplifting to contemplate the blessings instead of dwell on the problems. After seeing this quote by Groucho Marx I’m going to set another intention which is simply to ‘be happy’. I know that life is moving along and that anything can change. I don’t control all the outcomes, but I do control how I chose to live. I chose to live with an attitude of gratitude and openness and the intention to be happy!
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” -
I’ve always supported recovery, but I thought that meant financing rehabs over and over – who can afford it? I used to wish that I could pay for the rehab-by-the-sea, thinking that would be the best-of-the-best for my son! Truth is, money can’t buy recovery and I’m grateful to have learned this before I continued to pour money down the drain not to mention, one more guilt feeling pushed aside. I have read a ton of books written by recovering addict/alcoholics and listened to others at open meetings. Each one led me to the same conclusion: recovery doesn’t cost money; it costs commitment, desire and willingness. Addiction costs money, and there is never enough.
So how do I help my son? By getting the tools to live life on life’s terms and not depend on him to make me happy. To learn how to accept him just the way he is and let him know he is loved. Recovery for him doesn’t have to cost me anything monetarily, it’s his for the taking yet I can still support him either way.
I discovered other ways to help – by indirectly supporting those who are ready for recovery. It may not be my son today, but it may be him tomorrow…There are nonprofits that help addicts looking for recovery and I can gift to them. When I struggle with birthdays and holidays as to what to gift my active addict alcoholic – I have to rethink how I do this. Today, I may write a check to a non-profit; I may support a local sober living environment or give my service to other entities that help educate the community. They are out there - the more I looked, the more I found them. Helping this way gives me a sense of gratitude – it’s my new way of helping my loved ones.