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.
There is a point in every parent’s journey with their child in addiction when rehab seems to be the only option. This moment came after a summer of a continuing downward spiral into my daughter’s addiction. It was a slow, difficult decision to come to this conclusion. Early in this journey I was filled with denial…”maybe it’s just a phase,” “We all partied when we were younger and we’re okay,” “I can help her see the damage she is causing to herself and convince her to stop the substance abuse”… the list goes on. But there is a point when the denial can no longer rule you and you begin to get the clarity that this is no longer a rebellious teen or a phase that will blow over. At that point in time, you come to the conclusion that your child has become addicted to drugs/alcohol. Whether its drugs or alcohol or both, they are the same; they are the common enemy in the journey of addiction. When I realized my beautiful, precious daughter had been possessed by the demon of drug addiction, I knew I could no longer hide behind the denial; I had to take action.
Taking action did not come quickly. First, I had no idea what to do, how to do it, I had more questions than answers. But I did know that the fear of what would happen if I gave my daughter an ultimatum controlled my ability to take action to save her. Eventually the pain of watching her self-destruct and the collateral damage that was taking place throughout our family was no longer tolerable. Through a series of web searches, reaching out to professionals, and talking to various friends, I found a rehabilitation center in our area. It was the beginning of a long journey to sobriety for her along with help with co-dependency for me. I know how difficult it is to cross this first juncture to getting help because it then means facing the problem head on and that is painful even if it is the right next step in many cases. Every person and family is different and has to make choices that are best for their situation. The one common thing is to make the effort to see the situation for what it truly is and get beyond the denial that can cloud our ability to take action. It is the first step in moving forward towards the possibility of recovery.
Denial is a powerful escape from life’s serious problems. For me, reality takes on a distortion and when I’m focused on my grown child I lose sight of what really is. My tendencies are to not see addiction. I don’t see isolation from family and social settings, and I don’t see self-centeredness, ego or anger to name a few. Unsettling behavior is hard to see with those closest to me. I can’t stand to see the suffering or struggles. Before the tools of recovery to help with my co-dependency issues, I stayed in denial because I didn’t know what to do. I felt obligated and responsible for the substance abuse but I did not know it was much bigger and more powerful than anything I had ever come across. With no tools and working on it alone, denial helped smooth over the trouble, minimizing big issues to a temporary manageable level.
Oddly, if the same behavior was exhibited by a stranger, at least I’d recognize certain signals: danger, concern, disrespect or insensitivity. Most likely I would not tolerate it. But to those I love? I don’t see it or my denial turns it into rationalization or normalization. I thought I would be able to help, but really? How? I’m incapable – I’m just too close. This is why I pray for the stranger, turn the rest over to a Power, greater than myself and for all matters that concern me; I let it begin with me.
To understand the coping mechanism that can perpetuate rather than solve the problem, check out Parent Pathway Meeting in a box: Denial.
In life you need either inspiration or desperation.— Tony Robbins
I heard on a spiritual talk show the statement, “Desperation was a gift, it saved me”. At first I was curious how one could say that and then recalled that it was desperation that made me seek out a support group for families who have a member addicted to alcohol and drugs. The hurt and uncertainty was too great to function.
I began to realize desperation is what it takes for most people in codependent relationships to find relief, and that this last resort is the end game towards recovery. It took a long time to understand that desperation was actually a gift. Without desperation, I’d still be fighting, over and over in varying ways, to regain control of the uncontrollable: drugs and alcohol addiction of a loved one.
As with anything, desperation can be a double edged sword. Having utter lack of hope, untreated, without intervention or rehabilitation, one might continue towards a path of insanity, institutionalization or death from related disorders. It certainly is a cross-road and as a gift, it created a change in my arsenal of tactics: listen and learn what others are saying.
And the beauty of hearing other people’s perspective helps me self- analyze my own progress in recovery. What initially began as a quest to save my sons turned out to be much more than I imagined. I was initially inspired by the hope that there is a possibility of recovery for them, and nowhere else had I been given that. I even believed there was hope that they too might find the gift of desperation – I realize now that desperation is only a gift if I surrender old ways and chose another. If not, then desperation can further damage. I don’t know if it is a necessary predecessor to change but that is what did it for me.
Rehab did many wonderful things to help get my daughter’s health back and help her get clarity on the situation. In addition, they had family sessions to help educate the parents and siblings about what addiction is and what we were up against in fighting this disease that alters the brain and turns our loved ones into someone we scarcely recognize. While my daughter went through her program to get strong and face the issues to overcome her desire to abuse drugs and alcohol, I began my own program. I learned of Al-Anon Family Group, known as Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a support program for the loved ones of those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. In Al-Anon I found support and many people who were struggling with the same situations that I faced. It is difficult when you have a loved one struggling with addiction. Who do you talk to? How can other friends and family understand what you’re going through? They can’t understand as well as someone who is dealing with the very same struggle. In Al-Anon I found I wasn’t alone and I also found many helpful books and information to start working on how to stop enabling my daughter’s addiction. There are many
Al-Anon meetings throughout all communities and I got a list of the times and locations to find meetings to attend. I had heard from another parent from someone in the rehab that Al-Anon had changed all aspects of her life and helped her better support her son through his addiction and recovery. I wanted the strength and clarity that she had so I began attending Al-Anon meetings. I was so desperate for help and support that I went to 3 or 4 Al-Anon meetings a week. I found a very special meeting that was a Parent meeting and it became a weekly ritual for me as these folks understand better than anyone what I am going through.
Al-Anon has become the ‘oxygen mask’ of survival for me. It is analogous to the flight attendant on the airplane explaining, ‘You must first put the oxygen mask on yourself, before you help your child’. How can you help your child when you are in a state of disarray, shock, fear, hopelessness. Al-Anon began to give me the tools and recovery I needed from my co-dependent behavior to begin the journey of enabling my daughter to be a self-sufficient, responsible person in whatever way that manifests for her in her terms.
There is a dynamic I call the ‘triangle of dysfunction’ which includes a victim, a villain and a hero. What can happen in difficult situations is there is one person who is victimized, either by themselves or by others. In the case of addiction, it could be the addict who is struggling to overcome their addiction. The young addict’s parents become completely consumed with how to help their kid get healthy and overcome their addiction. There are often times when the parents do not always agree on what to do. Certainly this can happen when the parents are still married and can be complicated if the parents are divorced. When the addict does something that results in serious consequences like getting arrested for possession of illegal drugs it can be difficult to determine what to do. When the call comes to the parents to help ‘bail me out of jail’ it is a very difficult situation. On one hand you do not want your child to be in jail and on the other hand you know that they need to take responsibility for their actions. If one parent says ‘no’ I won’t bail you out, and then the other parent says ‘yes’ I’ll bail you out. The one who says ‘no’ becomes the villain and the one who says ‘yes’ becomes the hero.
I’m not going to lobby for which is the ‘right’ thing for the parents to do, but I will lobby that an agreement gets made together to avoid the ‘triangle of dysfunction’. By banding together and discussing the possible ways to handle the response and giving a united front to your kid or young adult you will avoid the chance of being played against one another. It will also show your loved one that you care enough to work together and that you are consistent. By giving different answers or reversing decisions of one parent creates a disruptive and erratic family dynamic. Keep in communication and try to agree together whenever possible. It will foster a positive relationship for all involved.