When will the misery end? Stages of Grieving: parenting addicted children

My husband said “no” when my 30 year old son asked to borrow his truck. The conversation ended badly: my son hung up on him with a flippant “I didn’t think it would be a big deal.” My husband is feeling sad about it all.  He said some things he wishes he could take back, replay or do differently. I recognize the defeatism and self-deprecating emotions that happen from outcomes like this. I’ve had a few of my own. Everything about a child’s drug abuse and addiction can have negative consequences for parents. The worry and fear. Then there’s the doubt you place on yourself as a parent; then there’s the resistance to the truth – wishing you could say yes, often saying yes to avoid conflict. Then there’s the hurt and emotional suffering you go through because even though you know intellectually, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control, you can’t cure it, it still doesn’t make the situation better or release you from responsibility. I just wish he was doing better, had sought recovery and fought relapse. The truth is he is ripping and running right now and I am powerless over it.

This disease is an inside job. When will the misery end? It ends when I let go and let God. When I accept what is and chose recovery from the family disease.  I can chose another way in my relation to this disease, yes,  I will have sadness, but not all consuming misery.

Sister Bea talked about the 5 stages of grief in a retreat I attended.  Parents discover grieving  is a term that aptly describes our feelings of having sons and daughters afflicted with addiciton.  First there is denial. Denial of reality is a symptom of our disease. At first, it had its place – to cope with the unthinkable. Used too long, my life becomes unmanageable. Next comes bargaining, a weird but true phenomena with your interaction with God. OH God, I promise this, if you do that! The 3rd stage is anger and there are many articles and reading material about anger. Many parents of drug addicts have issues with anger and resentments. Parent Pathway has a wonderful meeting-in-a-box exercise for Anger and I often speak about it (click here). Fourth is sadness – so strong it overtakes you. For some, there can be clinical depression and other disorders from it. Finally, there are snippets of acceptance, and all of this happens at different points in time. With acceptance there is a shift in attitude filled with hope, growth and splendor through spiritual relief. It is here I find solace from the family disease of substance abuse. It brings me back to the present moment – neither dreading the next moment nor dwelling over past moments. I accept there will be pain and sadness sometimes, but with acceptance, events such as this won’t torment me through the 5 stages of grief.

Should we expect Relapse when our loved ones get Rehabilitation for chemical dependency?

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.

Stop talking and start mending things with your addicted child

Photo of teen girl talking to woman.One way I have learned to improve my relationships with my adult children whose issues with substance abuse bothered me is to remember to keep my big mouth shut…tight!  My friend says “I have the right to remain silent; I just don’t have the ability to!” Finally, I’m given a reason for my behavior – I’m powerless over the desire to comment!  A symptom of co-dependency, it perpetuates my unhappiness with the outcomes.  Even though I’m aware of the negative consequences, I forget the tools that help me behave differently. Slowly, I remember those tools before my tongue takes over and my ability to communicate with maturity improves.

I use to override or completely miss the signs that the other person doesn’t want to engage or is put off by something I have said. I tend to do this uncensored with the ones closest to me. For example, I want to offer advice that wasn’t requested from me or offer a better solution to something they share. Their reaction is silence, withdrawn or irritated outburst. Outbursts are unpleasant, but silence seems worse! The sound of silence triggers my need to break it with a question. Questions can be aggressive. Usually, I ask prying questions under the guise of being loving or interested. A question can put people on the defensive and coupled with substance abuse, there is also an open invitation for lying. Questions can also be perceived as prying and nosey. That is not the kind of mother I want to be and if I had continued without change, I would have pushed others further away from me – the exact opposite of what I desire!

Understanding my role in the family disease has helped me appreciate the significance of the slogan W.A.I.T.    This is an acronym I picked up in Al-Anon which stands for “why am I talking?” A good reminder to keep my urge to say something in check.  Another problem with questions is I’m usually not prepared for the answer! I’ve grabbed onto the saying, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know!” Learning to listen and accept the situation, without comment, gets easier the more I practice. I have come to realize that silence is not unpleasant but rather a time I can compose myself to breathe, invite my Higher Power in, and be mindful of my own character defects.

To learn more about communicating successfully with your loved ones, explore Parent Pathway’s Meeting in a Box: Communication

Curious nature of powerlessness

There is a recurring fear my son, who struggles today with addiction, will get into more trouble, hurt someone, or hurt himself. These feelings of anxiousness happen to me randomly after long period of time where I haven’t heard from him. My sick mind tells me no news is bad news because before, I used to say no news is good news and that wasn’t true!   My sick mind tells me doom & gloom is around the corner, “any day now.” My sick mind wants to get into my sons’ business because my sick mind tells me he  can’t manage without me.

My healthy mind tells me it’s OK to love my son, be concerned, hope for the best. My healthy mind tells me that I did not cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it. My healthy mind reminds me to keep to my own business, that sticking my nose into his affairs will muck things up – I may not like what I see and not accept him as he is.  Then I’ll behave badly and not be the loving mother I want to be.  My healthy mind assures me that my son is where he is supposed to be, and he is smart & resourceful.

My healthy mind is healthy because of my program, the Al-Anon program, which keeps me grounded and clear about what’s mine and what isn’t. My program reminds me that there is a Power greater than me that can restore me to sanity and my son also has a Power greater than me to restore him to sanity. I’m not in charge!

The curious nature of not knowing to a co-dependent like me encourages my monkey brain to project the future and replace my present moments with worry and fret. I’ve been there too many times, and today I can accept the truth: Not knowing does not mean bad or good karma or that my son purposely keeps me in the dark.  Not knowing is just that, nothing more nothing less.  Any kind of eventuality outside of my control I am powerless over.  I can detach from the monkey brain, get back in to Today and trust in that Power.

Mobile Serenity – Detaching from stress to relax

finding serenity while campingI 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: Why I have trouble with the ones closest to 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.

How to mind my own business when my grown child struggles

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.


Principles of recovery for parents of addicts and alcoholics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)  offers a working definition of recovery that captures the essential, common experiences of those recovering from mental or substance use disorders.  SAMHSA  also identified 10 guiding principles that support recovery. The principals, while written for and about the addict, apply so clearly to recovery as experienced by the family of the addict, as well. 

First, consider SAMHSA’s definition of recovery from mental and substance use disorders: a process of change through which individuals work to improve their own health and well-being, live a self-directed life, and strive to achieve their full potential. And how does one make those changes? Here are SAMSHA’s Ten Guiding Principles of Recovery:

  • Recovery is person-driven.
  • Recovery occurs via many pathways.
  • Recovery is holistic.
  • Recovery is supported by peers and allies.
  • Recovery is supported through relationships and social networks.
  • Recovery is culturally-based and influenced.
  • Recovery is supported by addressing trauma.
  • Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility.
  • Recovery is based on respect.
  • Recovery emerges from hope.

Instead of looking for recovery– or at my beloved addict through the lens of his recovery– I’ve learned to take a good hard look in the mirror.  Do I spot the ten principals of recovery in my life?  If not, it’s time for some inner work. 

As they say, “Don’t change my world, change me.”  These principles are powerful tools to hone my own recovery from the trauma of a child’s addiction. There might be other tools, too; what is missing from SAHMA’s list that you have found helpful in your own recovery?  Please share your ideas and your power with other readers.


Jail Visitation Rituals

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.

Spiritual Relief from the Anguish of loving an addict/alcoholic son or daughter

I attended a 2 day taping of Echart Tolle TV in Mill Valley. It was like a spiritual injection and renewal of positive inner thinking very similar to my Al-Anon Program of recovery. Interestingly, someone asked Eckart how to reconcile a perceived conflict they had from his spiritual teachings (the power within us) to the concept of a “Higher Power.” That God, which they came to understand through their own 12-Step Program recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous, seemed to be something bigger, higher and outside of them – “up there somewhere.” His response was perfect: the term “Higher Power” is just a language pointer. We have no language that adequately defines this. “Try using INNER POWER instead,” he suggested.

It got me to thinking about my own attempt to get my mind around the Higher Power concept. Al-Anon’s 12- Steps, adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, were simply something on poster boards to alert me that my sons would need to pay attention to that so they could get better. I never considered that it would have anything to do with me. Once I realized my part in the illness – the family disease of drug and alcohol addiction, I wanted relief from the anguish and worry. I slowly realized it would take work. I made the decision to obtain a sponsor and I had to work my own 12-Step program of recovery. Until I accepted where I was, I disregarded the concept of turning anything over to a power greater than myself. Why do I need to bother with any of this? I’m not the one with the problem!

The 12-step recovery program through Al-Anon family groups was exactly what I needed. I slowly became willing and embraced the necessary steps for a spiritual awakening. I was using “pointers” in the language of recovery. I heard and casually picked up the term, Higher Power, which came from the people in the program, not the program itself. There are several references in the steps that point to a Power, greater than ourselves and to a God, as we understood Him, the latter was up to me to figure out. There is no wrong way. It was evident Echart made no judgment. He simply offered an alternative language to the term “Higher Power” which to him is “Inner Power.” It is faith that this Power, whatever words you use to describe, that restores us to sanity.