Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

What makes you truly happy?

Denial is the antithesis of knowledge and acceptance

Mental Illness and AddictionSCENARIO: You have received bad news again, either from your son or daughter directly, their employer, landlord, friend, relative, fill-in-the-blanks. This time the emotional roller-coaster is curving through the anger turn. You think, “This is the 6th, 7th, 12th, 100th or another LAST time!” In yet another opportunity to drill into them the PROBLEMS they are creating for themselves, maybe this time you blast them with righteous indignation about the problems they are causing YOU.

ME: “I don’t understand why you do it!”                THEM: “I don’t know why I do it!”

Who’s right? Both! “I just don’t understand why” was often said from my mouth. Yet my actions for many years did not indicate any desire to try and learn about it. Moreover, I did not hear myself when I said the words: I don’t understand – I was preoccupied with WHY. Yet it armed me with ammunition: I don’t understand, therefore I will fight-fight-fight.

In recovery I have learned that understanding is mental action of study which is sometimes measured through aptitude tests and scoring. Acceptance is a spiritual action of study with notable behavioral changes in attitude: serenity, kindness, gratitude and love. The further along I get in my own recovery, the less important “why” becomes. Knowledge has provided me with information – it was the resistance to this information that kept me in denial. Denial is the antithesis of knowledge and acceptance. And the battle of the non-Al-Anon vs. Alcoholic/Addict continues on or maybe, this time, something changes…


How do I love thee? Learning to love and trust during uncertainty

Stack of love letters on rustic wooden planks backgroundI caught an Oprah Lifeclass series where an episode portrayed a young couple trying to recover their marriage after the woman had a fling with another man. “How will her husband ever regain his trust in her?” we ask. Dr. Phil’s no nonsense response was good. Trust is not about trusting the other person to do or not do something in the future. The real trust question is within you – Do I trust that I can handle anything that happens in the future? This whole show centered on thinking differently about trust and love stemming not from another, rather, from yourself.

Naturally, I did what I do; I turned the topic around to how it relates to ME and my children and the family disease of addiction. Before addiction’s collateral damage hit me, I took for granted trust in others and may have inadvertently used love as self-serving. When betrayal hit, it did not occur to me that the first thing to go was trust in me.

Back to the relationship in question. The scenario: A man loves a woman, she cheats on him and his trust in her is broken. He’s hurt and afraid to let his love for her hurt him again. My scenario: A mother has a child whose addiction has progressed to a point that he is no longer trustworthy. She’s hurt and afraid if she continues to love him, he might hurt her again.

I had to think about love, while I thought about trust. Love involves caring, respect, giving, commitment, kindness, tolerance and …trust. I used to think love was reciprocal. In reality, if I love myself enough, then it can be without attachment to someone else. It can be given away, unconditionally, because I am confident enough to not have an expectation or implied reciprocity. If I trust myself enough, I can love others and if they hurt, betray, disrespect, take, are unpredictable, are mean, intolerable and untrustworthy, I will cross that bridge when presented. I TRUST MYSELF ENOUGH TO KNOW I CAN CONTINUE ON, MAKE CHOICES, HAVE HAPPINESS, SET BOUNDARIES (AND KEEP THEM), AND EVEN SAY NO.  I love thee freely!

What does it mean to be addicted to loving an addict?

Photo of a mother and son.A while back, my friend spent the night in the ER,  courtesy of her daughter’s addiction.  She wasn’t there for her daughter; she was there because of her daughter.  The addiction was making her sick.  She was so consumed with fear over her daughter’s whereabouts and safety that her heart felt like it was exploding in her chest.  Afraid that she was having a heart attack, her son rushed her to the emergency room. Ironically, they gave her Xanax –her daughter’s drug of choice—to calm her down.

Addiction, the family disease, kills addicts and those who love them.  Sometimes the addict is unscathed while his or her family pays the price.  Many addicts in recovery are horrified to learn how much their parents suffered while they skated merrily along, oblivious or numb to the collateral damage they caused along the way.

Loving our children “’til death do us part” is not healthy or sane.  But where is that “off” switch that lets us walk away from our children for our own sake—and for theirs?  And where do we find the strength to flip the switch? Sometimes our own health issues force us to cry “Uncle.”  Sometimes we run out of money or other resources.  And sometimes we have a moment of clarity and see that we can’t save them unless they want to save themselves; if not, we are all going down with the ship.

The simple act of removing ourselves from the equation often gives the addict an incentive to change.  When cardboard boxes and dumpster diving replace clean sheets and home cooking, that just might trigger the addict’s own moment of clarity.

My child’s addiction is not the sword that I want to die on.  Loving our children means resolving not to participate in their self-destruction. And loving our children means loving ourselves enough to retreat from the line of fire so that we can be present in a way that is healthy for all.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Do you love fully in the moment?

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says ‘I need you because I love you.’

- hands in shape of heartErich Fromm


Whoever said love was easy?

301883_8582 mother daughter walking on beachEarly in my grieving process, when I realized my love could not save the ones I love, a stranger handed out a reading at one of the support groups I was in. The printing does not reference an author. It touched me greatly and I kept a copy. Reading it made sense, but I just wasn’t sure I could do it – it seemed counter intuitive to my mother instincts. Here it is reprinted:

To protect our own integrity and peace of mind, we may have to redefine the word love. Sometimes no is the kindest word we can say to a family member or close friend who’s in serious trouble with alcohol, drugs, or any other ravaging obsession. Their suffering pushes all our “rescue” buttons. What we feel like doing is straightening out their messes and protecting them from farther harm. If we could, we would banish all their miseries with the touch of a magic wand! But we can’t. Often the only thing we can do to help our self-destructive loved ones is to sop helping completely. As hard as it is, and as unnatural as it feels, we may have to make some or all of the following declarations of love if we want to shorten our loved one’s path to the recovery turnoff.

  1. I love you, so I won’t buy your groceries or pay your rent.
  2. I love you, so I won’t loan you money or the uses of my credit.
  3. I love you, so I won’t call in sick for you at work.
  4. I love you, so I won’t cover your bounced check.
  5. I love you, so I won’t let you move in with me.
  6. I love you, so I won’t listen to your excuses or accept your lies.
  7. I love you, so I won’t make your bail.

If we know down deep that these words need to be spoken we need to practice them until we can get them out. Many recovering people only got turned around because someone loved them enough to give them a cold shoulder instead of a helping hand.

A love letter for parents of addicts and alcoholics

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m thinking about love.  I used to be mystified by my son’s expressions of love for our family.  If he loved us so much, why did he make destructive choices that tore us apart?  If he cared about our relationship, why did he jeopardize it with drugs and alcohol  How could he leave little drawings of hearts on the counter as he headed out the door to buy drugs?  ?  If he loved himself, why did he trash his body with dangerous substances? It made no sense to me.

I didn’t understand the nature of this disease called addiction.  I didn’t understand how he could fervently seek recovery yet, at the same time, be unable to resist mood-altering substances that would put our his raging fir of I NEED I NEED I NEED. Now that I understand the mis-firings of a chemically-dependent brain, it makes sense to me.

And how do we, in turn, love our children who do unlovable things when they are in the throes of active addiction?  What does that love look like?  It looks like saying “No” or asking “Oh?” when they claim they need money for (fill in the blank).  It sounds like, “I love you and I will not participate in your suicide with drugs or alcohol.  I will support you in recovery, but until you show your commitment to sobriety, you will not be in my life.”  Gulp.  That feels like Hell, but we need to set limits like that or else they may die on the sword of their addiction. And so might we.

Looking at a child through the lens of addiction is not for sissies.  One mom who commented on a previous post noted that she that she had been in Al-Anon for over a decade. Did I sign up for that when I first held my baby boy?  No, but I signed up to be the best parent I could, and that means involves setting limits and sticking with them because I love my child intensely, even though he is chemically dependent and because he is chemically dependent.  Love the addict, hate the addiction.

Detaching with Love from Your Addicted/Alcoholic Child

Parents of addicts or alcoholics are often advised to “detach with love,” which is much easier said than done.  How do you detach with love when the beloved child you raised now appears as a Tasmanian Devil, creating intolerable chaos and destruction in your life? What do you do with your anger, fear and grief?  What does “detaching with love” mean, anyway??

For me, detaching with love goes hand in hand with another expression: “Love the addict, hate the addiction.”  It means that I now try to intellectually separate my child’s unacceptable behavior from the fundamentally good kid I know him to be because I have come to understand the brain disease of addiction.  It means that I choose not to participate at every fight he invites me to because I realize that they are addict-initiated power struggles.  It means I  reclaim my power to be present in my child’s life on my healthy terms rather than as a defensive reaction to the addict’s shrill mandates.

Most of all, it means that I set healthy limits with kindness rather than fury.  I have learned to raise the bar for his behavior by explaining,  “I’ve changed, and that behavior is not OK with me now.  I will not welcome you in my home/life/fill in the blank if you are using drugs or drinking.”  I’ve said No, and I’ve said No More in a loving way because I love my child, because I am worth it and because I owe it to the rest of our family

Detaching with love means that I show respect to my child, and –even more important—to myself by setting healthy limits in a loving way. As I refuse to be the doormat for unacceptable behavior, I lovingly set a standard for how I deserve to be treated.  With any luck plus some divine intervention, my change in approach gives my beloved child, and not the addict, a compelling reason to come home.