Someone mentioned recently what a big smile I had. I responded, ‘Yes, I have a lot to smile about…’ Then I thought about how that wasn’t always the case. There were many days and weeks that would go by with no sign of a smile. This was during the depths of the dark time with my child’s struggle with addiction. I was consumed with worry and obsession about her well-being. I did not find joy in anything, even when there were good things going, because my heart ached with despair. But as I reflect, over time that changed. As I got healthier and realized that I was not in control of the outcome of another person’s life, I began to regain my own. I went from reacting to the day to day crisis to being proactive and in control of my boundaries and my time. This began to give me peace of mind, serenity and sanity.
It’s hard to imagine that you can be happy if your child is not happy. But it is possible to disconnect from the sinking ship that is their addiction and swim to shore. Once I started to get perspective and take care of myself, I realized that if I got stronger and healthier I could be in a better position to help my daughter. It is like the airlines when the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first then help your child. It is the best analogy, how can you save them when you are suffocating yourself? As parents we love our children so much that we would do anything to save them from harm. But the very act of helping a loved one in addiction can, sometimes, have the opposite effect and help keep them in their addiction. I am glad that I am smiling today. I have a lot to smile about…my family is in a good place, my daughter is clean and sober. I am grateful for the happiness that I have and I know that just for today I will enjoy and feel grateful.
In rehab there are so many wonderfully transformative changes that occur. It is truly a place of miracles. There are also inherent challenges, one being the introduction to more ‘like minded’ people. Each time my daughter went into rehab, she had a new collection of friends who were also struggling to get clean. This can be a built in support group and for many they forge lifelong friendships in recovery. For others this can open a door to a whole new level of drug use. Sometimes those seeking recovery end up in a relationship that is a bad combination for trying to stay away from the life style that brought them into rehabilitation in the first place. It is very difficult to enter into sobriety, let alone in a relationship. It is always advised to avoid starting a relationship the first year of your sobriety. This is for many reasons, but for one, many relapses occur over the trials and tribulations of relationships.
When our kids become of adult age we no longer have the same ability to know what they are doing unless they give access either by telling us or by signing release forms at facilities they engage with. Once out of rehab and into a sober living house – it becomes very difficult to know what is truly going on. We no longer have a way to know what was going on unless our kid decides to tell us. In rehab my daughter would sign a release to allow them to discuss her case with me so that we could all work together so I was involved. Part of the experience of rehab is to also help the parents/family members understand their part in the journey and to get educated about addiction. I’ve learned more about the disease of addiction than I ever could have imagined. I knew that letting go of managing her life was a big part of my growth-really any parent as their child transitions into adulthood, yet it was like asking me to stop breathing with all the circumstances in motion. I was so fearful of what would happen to her that I obsessed about what she was doing…was she safe? …was she using again? …was she going to her AA meetings? …was she in a new relationship that was harmful or helpful? The list goes on. I learned that in order for me to help her, the best thing I could do was help myself get out of my obsession about what she was doing and give up my illusion of control. It was a difficult time and even though it was years ago and I’ve had a lot of learning and growing, an incident with either of my kids where I begin to worry whether it’s about school, friends, jobs, or anything I can find myself beginning to obsess about their wellbeing. I recognize this and then take steps to put things in perspective and know that I am not in control and that are capable young adults.
Early 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.
- I love you, so I won’t buy your groceries or pay your rent.
- I love you, so I won’t loan you money or the uses of my credit.
- I love you, so I won’t call in sick for you at work.
- I love you, so I won’t cover your bounced check.
- I love you, so I won’t let you move in with me.
- I love you, so I won’t listen to your excuses or accept your lies.
- 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.
This thought popped into my head the other day – can I just stop being a parent now? I realized I was tired of the worry, anticipation, preoccupation, projection, I could go on. But the bottom line is that I just felt a bit exhausted. I started to contemplate, is there a time when I can just say ‘I’m done’ or ‘I don’t want the job anymore.’ Then the more I thought about it I realized that what was troubling me wasn’t my kids or their actions it was all my rampant expectations that they were either not meeting or may never meet. I think as parents when our kids were young or in their teens we all had this daydream that when they became adults we could quit fretting over their every move. Ha! That is so far from the truth. It seems to me my fretting is about much bigger things – will they be able to get a decent job and earn a living? Will they meet someone who is a good partner in life and be happy? I could list many of these thoughts.
My conclusion is that I don’t need to stop being a parent; I just need to stop fretting. Wow, what a relief when I came to this conclusion. It isn’t being a parent or what my kids do or do not do, it’s me and how I move through life. This falls into the category of ‘there is good news and bad news…’ The good news is that it’s not my kids, the bad news is, it’s me! So what do I do with this? I need to turn my expectations and projections about what is going on with my kids off, completely. Certainly I still have the role of support and coach with my adult children and I realize that will most likely always be the case. That is if I’m lucky and they want my advice of course. What I don’t need to do is spend my energy stressing or obsessing about what they are doing or what might happen in the future. This as we know is easier said than done. My obsessing lately is not as desperate as it was in the past, but still robbing me of my serenity. It is helpful to have a mantra handy in your mind and draw on it to distract yourself from unnecessary worry. It may not solve problems but it will help to restore your serenity and peace of mind, if even just for the moment.