Jail Visitation is a familiar setting. I’ve been a visitor here often, and it spans many years. The locations change, but the signs are the same. This is where I go to see my son when his disease lands him there. Over time, my visitation attitude has changed. It used to be I would try to reason with him; tell him what I think he needs to hear, show disappointment because he’s not doing what I think he should be doing and chasing my dream that he will get it this time. It’s too hard to keep working that angle with no benefit. Eventually, my desires for my son’s recovery became no longer necessary to outwardly express them. His incarceration is a result of drug addiction, period, end of story. And when I accept that, my relationship with him is on neutral territory: he’s not on the hot seat, and I’m not the interrogator. It’s this change in attitude that allows me to choose that visit, because jail visitation has many inconveniences. I would inwardly fight the system with its unyielding rules for visitors. Now I endure the rules and regulations about what I wear, what I carry in, and for those 30 minutes, I forfeit a day. But it’s worth it because now I’m just a loving mom visiting my son. After I’m “admitted in” I embrace the 40 minute wait. There is no reading material allowed and our chairs face a TV that is never turned on. As other visitors file through I begin to get anxious about what to do with all that time sitting still waiting for the clock to turn to visit time. There’s really nothing else but to twittle my thumbs. Then I remember that I can invite my Higher Power in; asking for guidance on how I can be fully present with my son. I can turn inward to prayer and meditation. I have concerns, but I’m not consumed by them anymore. I wish his situation will turn to better days, but I don’t dwell on the future too much. And then the fastest 30 minutes of the day flashes by, and I’m grateful that I can visit my son and that he enjoys the time with me as well.
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.
I still experience strong emotions when people (landlords, relatives, employers, friends) contact me about a status or question about one of my sons. There’s a lot of collateral damage floating around out there and it pops up from time to time. The reality is their drug addiction left untreated progressed to typical outcomes: irresponsibility, vagabond lifestyles, and, in some instances, drug related crime. As a result, I’m left standing as the only viable source for information – apparently. It’s been a few years since the extreme drama and the intensity and duration of the feelings I get may have decreased, but not entirely – I never know when something or someone can trigger a relapse. I’m hard wired to default to a defensive position. Knowing that, I have tools to use that are healthier. Put simply, I quit taking it personally.
Just the other day 2 squad cars and uniformed officers approached my front door looking for my son who is currently incarcerated. I don’t have control over that. They came to my house and I have to “deal with them.” My feelings are a force within, so strong I’m momentarily fraught. I’ve come to understand this is a common experience for a parent whose child’s early adult years are plagued with substance abuse and left untreated lead to stronger co-dependency behavior.
Today, I’m better at handling the “outside my control” matters. I’m able to distinguish what’s my business and more importantly, what’s not. The feelings of “what will the neighbors think” are still there, but I know that what other people think of me is ALSO NOT MY BUSINESS. The thoughts of “don’t you guys have computers to look someone up?” are still there. But just because I think it doesn’t mean I have to tell them how to do their job! It’s not my business!
Because of healthy boundaries, a strong program of recovery and a Higher Power in my life, I have learned that I can be respectful and guarded versus the sick, reactionary, raging co-dependent that I once was. This is all about my own recovery from my affliction of the family disease of co-dependency.
Whoever said “There are no guarantees in life” must have been well acquainted with the hopes and fears of the merry-go-round called substance abuse. During my child’s active substance abuse, my personal definition of insanity was that demon of uncertainly perched on my shoulder, always whispering in my ear…”Sober or not today? And will it stick?”
When I finally confronted the insanity created by my child’s chemical dependence, I had to admit that my life had become unmanageable because of drugs or alcohol. The fact that they were his drugs and alcohol was irrelevant: I had lost control of my life as I swirled around the drain of his addiction.
Admitting I was powerless was the first step towards reclaiming my health and sanity. I had to grasp the fact that I couldn’t fix him. I had to admit my inability to make things right so that I could look beyond myself for help and answers. I had to stop trying in order to create space for a power greater than me to take the reins. That was my path to believing that “a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.”
The concept of powerlessness is a cornerstone of any 12-step program. The path to personal powerlessness and to a power greater than us looks different for everyone. Those who don’t believe in God or religion might turn away prematurely from a 12-step program because they don’t believe in this concept. Call it what you want, but we all have a power greater than ourselves that commands our attention or adoration, give us direction, channels our energy. For the addict/alcoholic, it’s the needle or the pill; for the parents of an alcoholic son or daughter, it can be our addiction to fixing our child. Or it can be our willingness to admit that someone or something beyond us is calling the shots. And then to let go of outcomes and trust that things will work out the way they are supposed to. For me. And for my child. One day at a time.
I read that humility means having an attitude of honesty and simplicity along with a mindset of being teachable. This seems like a trait I’d like to possess more, especially in light of having loved ones in their addiction. There have been circumstances where I see my own humility. It seems to show up when I have a negative reaction to something. I ask my Higher Power, “What’s my part in this?” I most always get an answer (sometimes the answer is there but I ignore it). This is an opportunity to recognize my shortcomings and turn them back over to His care. My serenity is restored. I’m willing to listen. I am willing to learn.
One day during the holidays I was outside on our back deck. While outside, my son had called from prison and I missed the call. If you don’t pick up, they can’t leave a voice-mail. Often they lose their turn for that day. I immediately went into ANGER for having missed the call. What was I doing outside? Why did I have to do that? Then I went into blame, I blamed the dogs who were whining to go out…then I blamed my relative for having her dogs at my house and me having to “dog-sit” them. I was getting irrational yet my emotions were very strong. My part? If I were to be honest, I’d have to admit I wanted to go outside and pull a few weeds in the beautiful rare sunshine we were having. The dogs were just the excuse. My sponsor would say “life goes on – you can’t wait or live your life with expectations from someone else.” My son will call again when he is able and I will receive his call when I am able. And this is exactly what happened. Upon reflection, I realized how sad I was to have missed his call and I was able to feel that sorrow but not have it dominate the rest of my day. Old behaviors pop up and I’m reminded how easily I can relapse. With a program of recovery, I have tools to help me rebound. I turn my old behaviors into moments of humility and my serenity is restored.
My kids suffering always pushed my rescue buttons! And with the progressive nature of the Family Disease, my mom-ma bear protection became ineffective and was my first defeat in my war on addiction. Too cunning and baffling, the serious trouble drugs and alcohol created for all of us required counter-intuitive measures. What’s right is wrong, what’s up is down; it was as if I had taken a tumble through the looking glass. Yet oddly enough, nonsense became logic when looked at differently. I took a different turn and my willingness to try and see things in an unfamiliar way would ultimately be the best thing I could do.
These offensive measures were like being on a hike in uncharted wilderness; the trail markers are Jabberwocky: confusing or missing completely. I would have to believe on other signs to keep the right course. I could use recovery tools that were around me, my Higher Power and my hiking partner to strategize. As hard as it is, as unnatural as it feels, if I wanted to shorten the path to a recovery turnoff, my complete dependence on familiar trail markers would have to change. The “I love you so I won’t…” path was the treacherous climb out of the steep canyon. In small increments I could see sane things reappear in my life. The trail head was always there.
For a mother in a recovery program for co-dependency, sometimes unconscious triggers for relapse happen by outside influences to close to my heart. The ultimate one for me came when my sons’ girlfriend announced she was going to have his baby. My thinking went immediately to the bleak future. My thinking said I should be involved – they are not capable of raising a child! These projections were a result of my fears and rewarded as “mother knows best” as I took control and became in charge.
Back in my disease, hard lessons were soon to come to my way. I could no more control the “mother” of my future grandchild any more than I could control addiction. I am powerless! I had choices: to participate in the agony of involvement – or, to release myself from the crazy behavior emanating from the source and feeding my fears. Choosing option 1, involvement to the max, I became troubled by the deception and lies. And I kept wondering why I dismissed signs that something was amiss.
Thank goodness I was not alone – with the help of my 12-Step program, talking with my sponsor and others, I was able to discern what I had control over and what reality was. And I even got lessons from my Higher Power to help me Let Go of the future and be present in the here and now.
Ultimately, I was able to accept and let her go. There wasn’t going to be a grandchild and possibly never was – to this day I do not know the truth about that and that’s OK too. All I know is when I detach the better I am. I can accept the disease but I don’t have to participate – in fact, keeping a healthy distance from my loved ones has proven to be the best countermeasure for all my troubles.
I heard someone say, “nothing like Arkansas in the rearview mirror!” to illustrate a point about running away from problems. It’s also been termed a “geographic” – meaning, if I move away to another city, state, country, I will leave the problems behind. This sounded like a good idea – boy was I ready to escape! I had entertained those thoughts myself because addiction and drug abuse was creating havoc in my life and I was at wits end. I felt cornered where the only way out was to pick up and move!
I have since learned that running away doesn’t solve anything because I still have to live with myself! I can’t run from me – but early on I did not see my part in the equation. I only saw what THEY were doing. Detach with love! Detach with anger! Detach however you can! These were recurring suggestions. Not knowing how to detach, one thing that did work was to take “mini geographics” with my husband in our travel trailer. These little escapades, new to us, in an old used hunting trailer my husband brought home, became my way to detach. For one long weekend I would go to the mountains, the ocean or a lake and have serenity. Eventually I found my higher power. Eventually I learned how to focus on my life again with no outside influences; phone calls, knocks at the door, newspapers, neighbors. We detached, if but for one weekend at a time!
These road trips were my time: to read, paint, take walks, kayak. I could sleep; sleep some more and read my recovery material. I worked on me, and what I gained was health: spiritual, physical and mental. I fondly think of my old trailer as my “mobile serenity” which helped me understand the solution to my problems begin with me.
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.
When my son entered a 12-Step rehabilitation program after 19 months of using, I was naively thinking 30 days and he’d be back to normal. There was just no way he would use again, it was such a waste of his young years, and surely he saw this. Well, not only did he relapse WHILE in rehab, he subsequently relapsed many times over. I heard others say that with recovery comes relapse. This helped me accept unfavorable outcomes and not be so disappointed, angry or resentful. Later someone shared that relapse expectations can be dangerous and that perhaps I should not expect it or justify it. Think about the addict who may rationalize as do I: “Craig has relapsed a bunch of times before he made it, so what if I have a drink or two.”
What is minimized is that the last time Sabrina relapsed, she went into a coma and never came back; the last time James relapsed, his drug induced high for 3 days left a trail of armed robbery and arrest. The last time Joe relapsed, he hit a pedestrian while driving under the influence, and Sally? She nearly died from insulin shock, no longer in touch with her blood sugar monitoring.
Having this brought to my attention changed my behavior and attitude towards expecting relapse. Addiction is a deadly serious disease and any attempts to smooth things over, allow or assist the addict to justify relapse while in my sphere of influence cannot be tolerated. I will not expect it, but I can learn to accept it. And with love and prayer, a program of recovery from co-dependency, I have faith that a Power, greater than me, will guide us all toward a program of recovery.