Ask the Expert: Acknowledging our powerlessness, we seek words of encouragement

Relapse and Rebound, RepurposeQUESTION: My son started drinking @ age 13. He is now 43 yrs old and has not found sobriety. He has been in & out of rehabs & hospitals for the past 30 yrs. He is dually diagnosed & fails to be compliant with his treatments. He is a chronic relapser. He has a history of harassing, threatening, intimidating, verbally abusing people & destroying other peoples personal or real estate properties.

It has been very difficult to watch his self-destruction. Over the years there is nothing that we haven’t tried to help him get better. We have had to accept our family’s powerlessness over this disease. We had to pursue our own recoveries in order to find some peace & serenity. We needed to let go of him to be happy again.

Many times we thought that he had hit his bottom, but the insidious disease keeps winning & taking him over, again & again.  As much as any parent doesn’t want a child to go to jail, I am hoping that he will be sentenced & kept there. I am hopeful that maybe this is his bottom and he might realize how alcohol has destroyed his life & driven people that love him away. I see this as the last resort for his healing, since nothing else has worked. If jailed for 6 months or more, will he be evaluated & offered rehabilitation? I try to keep up my hope, but if he doesn’t learn from this drastic lesson, what can we expect the next time? This is all very heartbreaking. All I can do is pray. Any words of encouragement, I would appreciate. Who is this stranger, my son?? I read this helpful website every day. I am grateful for it:) Thanks for being there!

prison for addicts Brad DeHavenEXPERT ANSWER: When you get on a plane, the instructions are to put the oxygen mask on yourself before your children. YOU need to survive and at some point if you assess that everything you are doing is too much and not enough at the same time, then you are enabling the continuance of the same behavior.

Your son’s bottom is different than yours. If everything else that you have tried has yielded this result, then perhaps prison will bring his bottom to him. All you can do is love him and pray because at some point he has to understand how destructive his behavior is to not only himself but those who love and care for him. Addiction travels many difficult paths and you are certainly living one.

Best to you and yours!

Bradley DeHaven

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT ANSWER: You hit this on the mark!! Your child is a stranger. This is a brain disease, and eventually our loved ones are no longer available to us. Their entire lives become addiction.

So many of us have loved ones missing to addiction. I am sorry that there is no magic wand; change must come from him.

You are doing well if you have made your boundaries strong and rigid. You will find kinship and wisdom at meetings like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. please go to a minimum of six meetings, and try different ones until you have found the right one. Celebrate Recovery support meetings are also available to you at most major churches.

I would also encourage working with an addiction therapist who can help you move forward with the pain you are carrying.

It sounds like your son has lost his belief in himself for the time. If you talk to him, let him know you love him and believe in him, but hate this disease and what it has done to him. It is possible to love your child while hating his addiction.

Ricki Townsend, Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1

The perils of parenting a substance-abusing adult child

It has been said over and again, parents are the biggest influence over their children.  I must of thought that meant for life.  There were times I might have had a moment of influential pride – what I call the “my child is an honor student syndrome.”  I never went so far as to affix it to my car bumper! I was more apt to give my children credit where credit was due.  THEY worked hard at it…HE always had a love for basketball…HE was driven to pursue…I don’t know where they got it!”  But there are situations where rightful ownership is distorted by pride –  “Yep, that’s my boy!” With unsaid attitude: “I raised ‘em right!”

When behavior turns risky and substance abuse leads to addiction, the parental influence becomes nonexistent.  But, like me, most parents don’t stop trying to reclaim their influence.  And if crime related incidences by underage adults happen, we are quick to blame the parents casting quick judgment – “she deserves imprisonment” – “How can the parents allow that to happen?”

Like most of us struggling with an addict in the family, I stressed with martyrdom.  I spent every waking moment trying to prevent or stop the unthinkable consequences of the risky behavior.  I acted as if I had the ability to stop it.  I acted like I caused it.  I acted to regain that parental influence I was entitled to have!  I’ll admit there was a bit of guilt, what I call the  “what will the neighbor’s think syndrome.”

The flip side of giving credit where credit is due is taking responsibility for something I don’t own, good or bad.  It’s easier to allow them the glory of success than to allow them the dignity of living with a disease.  Who wouldn’t give their right arm to take away their pain?  What good did it do in trying?   It is this distorted thinking that causes further problems in helping my children recover from their drug addiction.   The perils of parenting are for life but it’s never too late to improve on it.

Do I Feel Guilty About My Son’s Chemical Dependency?

I sat next to a pediatrician at a charity dinner one night, and the talk turned to teen addiction.  He posed a thought-provoking question:  “Do you feel guilty that your son became an addict?”  If he had asked me that same question earlier in the game, my answer would have been an unequivocal “Yes.” I was wracked with guilt (co-mingled with anger, shame, horror and fear) because I believed I had somehow created an addict by failing my son in some unintended way, although I wasn’t certain what that was.  Was I too controlling in my son’s young life?  Not controlling enough?  Were my standards unreachably high, or perhaps too low?  Was I too much of a mother to him and not enough of a friend, or vice versa?  My painful self-examination and self-flagellation was endless, but still—I had no answers.  I didn’t know what I had done—right or wrong.  In the rear view mirror, I began to look at my parenting as an abject failure.

My perspective started to change as I learned how, for some, drugs and alcohol take on a life of their own.  It is a neurological, inheritable, biological reaction unrelated to willpower, character or desire. Apparently I passed that gene on to my son from my side of the family tree– unknowingly, as addiction hasn’t reared its ugly head in me. (The gift that keeps on giving across generations –Uugh).  Still, my son has chemical dependency in his genetic toolkit where it keeps company with courage, determination and his very kind nature, among many other great qualities.  Those are the gifts that he uses today in his life of active recovery.  He got those from me, too.

But I won’t take credit for the good stuff any more than I take blame for the bad.  My son was dealt a genetic hand of cards; how he plays it is up to him. And how I play the hand that life deals me is up to me, and that includes discarding the guilt card whenever I can.

Forgiveness is Freedom – Start by forgiving yourself along with your addicted loved ones

During the turmoil of living with a loved one struggling with addiction a lot of hurtful things are done and said. This is not only true of the addict and their behaviors, but also for those of us in the relationships and families surrounding the addict. We often put our focus on the addict and how we need to come to terms with forgiving him or her. It is very healthy for everyone when we can forgive. I believe we all know that forgiveness lends itself to a sense of freedom from a heavy burden. When we forgive it is like a large, collective sigh, a chance to breathe deep and know you have opened your heart.

We often forget that we also need to forgive ourselves. I know that I have a lot of guilt and regret from so many aspects related to my daughters’ addiction. I can easily list a number of things that I would do different now that I know what I know. I can also reflect on how I’ve handled various situations and how it would nice to have a chance to do it different. Yet, we cannot go back, we can only go forward. Part of going forward for me was to forgive myself and to know that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I can also know that I will do whatever I can to help others in the hope that in some small way, I can make a difference. And I can start by forgiving myself.

The art of saying NO to your addicted child

teenager contemplating futureMy disease is cunning. Left to my own devices, I will say yes when I want to say no or should say no because it’s a request for rescuing. I will over-commit or resent, either way, somebody is not going to be happy (besides me). Saying no seemed mean or disrespectful. What I learned was saying yes could be all that and more to my own sense of well–being and compromise other commitments I already had made.  I always felt guilty.

My recovery began with learning how to NOT COMMIT until I had reasonable to time to really decipher what was being asked of me. Sometimes I have to make choices, doing it all is not a choice if I want serenity in my life. Stall tactics such as “Don’t respond right away”, go into the “Oh-zone” and “buy time” all helped me learn to pause. I had to do this in the beginning because I was in a foreign land, unable to think or speak the language of recovery.  What was really happening?  I was beginning to form healthy and realistic boundaries.

I kept it simple: If my motive was to be liked, or I hoped I could manipulate an outcome, then I’d be in trouble. If my motive was to control, I was in trouble. If my motive was fear, I was in trouble. I picked up new language that progressed:

  • That won’t work for me.
  • I don’t do well in those settings.
  • I’m not able to devote the time you need.
  • Not at this time.
  • Perhaps another time.
  • I’m out on this one.
  • I will do this (something but not all) “meet halfway”
  • I have to think about it, can you contact me in x days?
  • I love you so I won’t.
  • No thanks.
  • No.

 

Another Mother’s worst nightmare – substance abuse leads to incarceration

She reached out in desperation – “my son’s been arrested and may go to prison!” When I met up with her I recognized the anguish and sleepless, ringed-worried-eyes, once worn myself. This is the look of a parent whose love for their drug addict child and powerlessness leaves them broken.

First there was the guilt – she missed the phone call from him. She had decided to go to the class she signed up for and, then there was regret – she should have stayed home! Martydom mixed with obsessive spurts of energy focused on detective work; late night internet research for arrest records and prisons. Soon she self-consumed into fearful isolation – projecting the worst outcomes. Driven to fuel the fears, news articles: “Life in solitary, Inmates Hunger Strike; Violent, predatory offenders” to name a few. Undeniably a drug addict turned to criminal activity to support his disease, but NOT this and NOT THERE! He is her child, her son – my son, your child, and our hearts break open – we want to rescue. I know this well, I have the T-shirt.

How could I help? What could I do? My co-dependent nature is to rescue and smooth over the fear and sadness because I feel unease in these situations…I wanted to say “it will all be OK!” But that’s not the truth, it might not be OK, so instead, I listened. How does one go from helplessness to powerlessness, the latter being a state of surrender & acceptance, fueled by trust versus fear? Was she ready? Would I be of help or further complicate matters? For me, it took hard work in my 12-Step Program of Al-Anon.

I shared my own experience of being frightened for my sons’ fate. Like when I read about the prison riot which made front page news. I immediately went to that scary place visualizing my son’s vulnerability in what I conjured up. A mother’s worst nightmare – my imagination ran wild! How I then turned it over to my God Box, realizing no amount of worry or fret was going to influence the outcome of this! I later learned he missed the riot because he “skipped” breakfast – all validating why I have to let go and let God! This was a change in the way I reacted to fears about the future and I was given positive feedback – projecting would no longer serve me, reaching out would.

Forgiveness is Freedom-Forgive yourself and addicted loved ones

During the turmoil of living with a loved one struggling with addiction a lot of hurtful things are done and said. This is not only true of the addict and their behaviors, but also for those of us in the relationships and families surrounding the addict. We often put our focus on the addict and how we need to come to terms with forgiving him or her. It is very healthy for everyone when we can forgive. I believe we all know that forgiveness lends itself to a sense of freedom from a heavy burden. When we forgive it is like a large, collective sigh, a chance to breathe deep and know you have opened your heart.
We often forget that we also need to forgive ourselves. I know that I have a lot of guilt and regret from so many aspects related to my daughters’ addiction. I can easily list a number of things that I would do different now that I know what I know. I can also reflect on how I’ve handled various situations and how it would nice to have a chance to do it different. Yet, we cannot go back, we can only go forward. Part of going forward for me was to forgive myself and to know that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I can also know that I will do whatever I can to help others in the hope that in some small way, I can make a difference. And I can start by forgiving myself.

Another Form of Letting Go – Grieving for lhe loss of life as I thought it should be

man worrying sqWhen my son went into his first rehab, he seemed very humbled, open and honest about his drug addiction. I was having a hard time accepting any of it and was puzzled as to how this happened. Though I knew he needed help, and I got him to the rehab facility, I was very ignorant about the disease.
Every Saturday, for 7 weeks, my husband and I would drive 3 hours one way to attend “family day”. This is where the rehab facility invited loved ones in for an open session to impart stories of hope and recognition of recovery. It was maybe the 3rd session and a speaker shared how his glands under his tongue would water and his mouth would quiver just looking at a liquor store sign. All other mental faculties were hijacked to the thoughts of pulling into the parking lot of the liquor store. It’s hard to imagine. But I somehow knew he spoke the truth.
Towards the end of that session I began to sob. I could not stop. In fact, my will to not make a “scene” made my uncontrollable tears flow faster! If the guest speaker had such trouble with involuntary thoughts and physical changes, how would my son stay clean? I did not know and could not articulate why I was so overwhelmed with grief that one Saturday.
After finding Al-Anon and learning as much as I could, I came to understand that I was probably sobbing for the loss of how I thought life was supposed to be. By grieving, I was beginning to let go and surrender to new ideas of how to live life when alcoholism/addiction is in the family.

The Power of Leaning on Others

When I’m frightened by my son’s predicament and want to help, I have to ask myself a lot of “whys.” Usually the answer has more to do with my guilt over somehow causing or miss-parenting correctly or my fear something bad will happen that I believe I can prevent.  Should I have caught early warning signs sooner?  Should I have done something drastic when I was hoping this was just a phase?  I have to accept that I did not cause, I can not cure, nor control addiction - so why do I feel guilty? If something bad happens – do I really think I have the power to prevent it?  Why am I having these feelings of doubt, regret, and fear? I’m usually able to scare myself pretty good when left to my own thinking.  My mind goes to bad outcomes and I’m more prone to isolation. 

I don’t have to isolate in fear anymore.  I’m truly grateful I can utilize my support group and the phone list.  Can I call someone and talk things over?  I get help from others who have been down this path before.  I’m able to take what they experienced, and see if it can apply to my circumstance. No one gives advice – this is a personal decision. 

I remember a time when my son wanted to stay at my house stating he had no place to go.  This was concerning me; I could not go back to living with an addict.  This was a boundary I was sticking to.  But I wanted to help and I was emotionally wrecked over what to do.  By listening to others, I learned that I could pre-pay 2 nights at an inexpensive hotel to get his feet back on the ground.  I would never have thought of this on my own! It gave him 2 days to make some decisions, and it released me from the agony of what to do.  I felt better.  The power of leaning on others!

How The Family Disease Evolved: From Helpless to Hopeful

Dandelion blowing in the wind.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.