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.
There’s a saying that has been very helpful along my journey through my daughters struggle with addiction – ‘Say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean’. Many times the first part ‘say what you mean’ is the easiest. I can often express what I mean to say, even in the heat of the moment when I’m upset or stressed. The second part ‘mean what you say’ is where the challenge starts for me. I’ll give an example. Early in the journey when my daughter was active in her addiction she had gotten out of rehabilitation and was going into a sober living house. I said what I meant, ‘You need to have a plan if you relapse and use drugs/alcohol again because coming home is not an option’. I truly meant this and I knew it was what was best for her. ‘Mean what you say’ is where you hold your loved one accountable to the consequences of their actions. Those consequences are among the very things that can help someone struggling with addiction to seek recovery.
I remember at one point early in my daughter’s journey while she was living in a sober living house that she called me late one night. She said, “I got kicked out, I messed up, I need to come home, I have nowhere to go…’. Short of getting a call that your loved one has been hurt or worse, this was the call we parents dread when we have said coming home is not an option. This happened quite a few years ago and I have learned so much since then about how the most loving thing you can do is stick to what you said. Late that night I couldn’t bear the thought of where my daughter would go or what might happen to her and I let her come home. Five days later she drove her car while seriously intoxicated and crashed into a tree. By the grace of God, she survived. I had been gently coached by a parent who had been through this when I told him that I let her come home. He said, “Your very actions to rescue your daughter from the consequence of her action may very well kill her one day”. While this seemed harsh at the time – it was 2 days before the accident. His words haunted me, he was so right. I did not hold her accountable due to my fears. I became very resolved from that moment on to ‘Say what I mean, mean what I say and don’t say it mean’ and it has made all the difference in our respective recoveries.
I recall and still experience people (landlords, relatives, employers, friends) who contact me of a status or question about one of my sons. Never mind they are over 18, adults! Their drug addiction progressed to unacceptable behavior to society at large and the only dependable contact is me. Usually it is a phone call, so the sound of the ring can put me on edge. It’s been a few years since the extreme drama. However, the intensity may have slowed down but not entirely, nor the feelings I get. Each time someone comes at me regarding my child, I take the situation as if I were the one that did it. I’d probably do the same thing if someone were coming at me about a miraculous good deed or achievement they did; I’d take credit for that too! Those scenarios typically don’t happen in a family affected by the disease of alcoholism and substance abuse. My feelings are a force within, so strong I’m propelled to take action: clean it up, apologize, and make excuses. I’ve come to understand this is a common experience for a parent whose child’s early adult years are plagued with substance abuse. Left untreated, it can lead to many health concerns as did happen to me.
With treatment through Al-Anon, I’ve learned a new way to handle my reactions; one that helps me determine if the matter is mine. There is a saying “if you put on a hula hoop, all things that happen inside the hula hoop belong to me and everything outside the hula hoop belongs to them.” This has given me a visual that is easy to remember. Today, I’m better at handling the “outside the hula hoop” matters as they still come up. It doesn’t necessarily center around addiction or my sons. But I’m learning that it’s a part of life and it’s what people do. People will come at me with matters that don’t necessarily belong to me. When it happens I can relapse to old ways and get defensive or take blame for something I did not do. Alternatively, I utilize choices in how I react based on recognizing what belongs to me and what doesn’t. These choices are healthier. The feelings of take charge and fix-it are still very strong! The Hula-Hoop tool is more about my own rehabilitation from my affliction of the family disease of co-dependency.
I sometimes ponder how quickly my fear and sadness of having a child with a drug problem resulted in my own physical issues: The teeth grinding at night, hair loss, weight gain, and high blood pressure to name a few. Initially, throwing quick fixes to the symptoms has had high costs: dental work, medical bills and revenue recovery.
With righteous indignation, I had plenty of excuses. If you walked in my shoes, you might understand why. It was easy to blame THEM for what THEY were putting me through. To add insult to injury, the disease of addiction and alcoholism were also affecting my immediate family and I resented that too.
But further contemplation while working the 12 steps of Al-Anon has shown me that I am better off doing a self-examination of myself, my motives and reasons. I had to relearn how to take ownership of my own actions and quit already with the excuses.
My attitude, if left unchecked, models the addict/alcoholic. I can easily blame others and have a distorted view on life. When I take the focus off THEM and work my own program of recovery, I am given gifts beyond measure. Here, true rehabilitation begins at the root cause – ME. I am able to deflect and change the course of how I feel both emotionally and physically.
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.
I discovered in my program of recovery that when I keep the focus on where it should be – me, I’m a better mother, parent, wife, daughter, aunt, friend and so on. Before rehabilitation, my thoughts and actions were predicated on how my loved ones were doing. If they were struggling, I struggled to rescue and offer unsolicited advice. Alcohol and drug addiction is a progressive disease. Problems would and did escalate. If they did not listen to my advice, I tried harder and harder – as if this was a hearing problem. In my 12-Step program, I learned about the family disease which helped me understand the only control I had was to make a commitment to change what I was doing. This change would be monumental but only took willingness on my part.
Positive results crystalized in Step 4. Step 4 is about taking a complete moral inventory of me. I was accustomed to taking their inventory and uncomfortable about taking my own. Once I started, I realized how much I had to learn about me. At the same time I was beginning to understand why boundaries were so important. Without boundaries, I was being dragged into the drama – a side effect of drug problems. There was a time I did not know where I ended and they began – it was all inter-meshed. The fear for them was beyond words and my response to it was not always kind or respectful. Understanding me; why I act the way I do, why certain things upset me, why I get fearful and fretful helped me break away from old habits and beliefs. I could begin to employ boundaries that were backed up with sense and reason versus fear and meaningless threats. In the process there was the realization that no one would change because I wanted them to. My inventory helped me realize how I was powerless over IT, but not helpless over myself and my relationships.
For a thought provoking exercise on this topic, visit Parent Pathway Meetings-in-a-Box: Boundaries
Your Question: My son is 24 and living with us. He is about to complete a 4-5 day detox (his 1st and we hope last). Should we go into his room and clean it out? There are things he probably doesn’t want us to find/see. We want to be respectful of his privacy, but did he lose that privilege?
Answer from Expert Ricki Townsend: Before answering your question, I’d like to gently suggest that detox without treatment has very little chance for success. Supporting your son in recovery really calls for residential treatment, ideally for 90 days. If you really want to help him and support his recovery, I hope you can find a way to line up residential treatment.
It’s critical to understand that detox followed by abstinence versus recovery are really different. A detox only removes alcohol from the body and brain and creates a scaffold of abstinence, which gives the addict no insight at all into why he or she is using in the first place. In contrast, in recovery, we learn about the brain disease of chemical dependency, and we fill our tool boxes with education, wisdom, coping strategies and other tools to live in a healthy and insightful way. In recovery, addicts and alcoholics also connect with and find support from a community of like-minded people who want the same thing: sustained recovery.
A 24-year- old addict really shouldn’t live at home. He is much more likely to reclaim his health in rehab or even transitional living (AKA “Half way houses”) while he learns more about recovery and regains healthy self-sufficiency and life skills.
You have every right to live in a drug-free home, and that includes making sure his bedroom is drug-free. If he becomes angry when you go through his room, please make sure he understands that he can choose to live in your home or not, but the price of admission is sobriety.
I’d also invite your family to find an Al-Anon meeting where you can get support and learn how to have good, strong boundaries. I wish you the best.
There’s a saying that has been very helpful along my journey– ‘Say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean’. Many times the first part ‘say what you mean’ is the easiest. I can often express what I mean to say, even in the heat of the moment when I’m upset or stressed. The second part ‘mean what you say’ is where the challenge starts for me. I’ll give an example. Early in the journey when my daughter was active in her addiction she had gotten out of rehabilitation and was going into a sober living house. I said what I meant, ‘You need to have a plan if you relapse and use drugs/alcohol again because coming home is not an option’. I truly meant this and I knew it was what was best for her. ‘Mean what you say’ is where you hold your loved one accountable to the consequences of their actions. Those consequences are among the very things that can help someone struggling with addiction to seek recovery.
I remember at one point early in my daughter’s journey while she was living in a sober living house she called me late one night. She said, “I got kicked out, I messed up, I need to come home, I have nowhere to go…’. Short of getting a call that your loved one has been hurt or worse, this was the call we parents dread when we have said coming home is not an option. This happened quite a few years ago and I have learned so much since then about how the most loving thing I could do is stick to what you said. Late that night I couldn’t bear the thought of where my daughter would go or what might happen to her and I let her come home. Five days later she drove her car while seriously intoxicated and crashed into a tree. By the grace of God, she survived. I had been gently coached by a parent who had been through this when I told him that I let her come home. He said, “Your very actions to rescue your daughter from the consequence of her action may very well kill her one day”. While this seemed harsh at the time – it was 2 days before the accident. His words haunted me, he was so right. I did not hold her accountable due to my fears. I became very resolved from that moment on to ‘Say what I mean, mean what I say and don’t say it mean’ and it has made all the difference in our respective recoveries.
We all know that we sometimes expect things to be one way and then they turn out to be another. But how often do we get to take a short glimpse of what life would actually be like and then somehow evade a seemingly disastrous path? When my daughter was at the end of her stay in a longer term rehabilitation center we were beginning to discuss what the next step would be. Should she go to a sober living house? What type of sober living? Should she find others in recovery and live with them? Before we made the final conclusion she decided to leave with some ‘friends’ that said they were in recovery and they invited her to stay with them. I sometimes refer to this week where my daughter left rehabilitation and struck out on her own as the ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ week – she got to see what it would be like for a week to have nowhere to go. I have to say, in retrospect, that she had all the right intentions and was quite brave in taking action with her life. She was able to find out that you can’t always trust what you are told. Her ‘friends’ that said they were in recovery ended up not being in recovery. This put her in a very precarious situation. Although she was determined, she was still early in recovery.
She called me a few times to ask for help to get her out of this situation. I told her that I would support her in a sober living house, but not any other arrangement. What was interesting is that I had such an urge all week long to help her and rescue her as I had done so many times in the past. I thought of so many ways to make it all better and ease the pain of her decisions and experience. But I was finally at a point in my co-dependent recovery that I knew the most loving thing I could do was to do nothing and simply let go. I needed to let her go through this experience. After a week of staying with various people she knew, she had a realization that this is not the life she wanted. She took action to find a sober living house and made all the arrangements to move in. It was a turning point for her as well as for me. For once I did not intervene and it was the experience that she needed to move forward. What a gift that week became for both of us.
I’m so proud that today’s parents, when concerned about their child’s substance abuse, have courage to take action and start early intervention. I don’t know if I could have done this myself given the strong sense of denial I was in. But then again, the drug epidemic we have today was not publicized when my kids were in their teens. Had there been a documentary like Pathway to Prevention’s Collision Course, Teen Addiction Epidemic, maybe I would have been paying attention more.
I recently heard some heartfelt testimonials at a fundraiser event for an adolescent treatment center. To witness recovery through individual achievements as was presented at the event was truly miraculous. How wonderful this community has options for parents who seek help for their children and family. And the bright future for these young people brought tears to my eyes.
Recovery takes dedicated team work and money to support its professionals, operating and infrastructure costs to that end. Generous donations, sponsors and private funding as well as volunteers in service by individuals continue to be the backbone of many non-profits. Now that we have more places that offer treatment, how much is this going to cost? Parents are often shocked at the costs associated with recovery treatment. As noted by Dad on Fire, in his blog post “Insurance Woes for Addiction treatment”, it seems “there isn’t a shortage of treatment centers but a shortage of dollars to provide for the care.”
One thing is certain: left untreated, addiction costs are far more costly and damaging than any prevention measure. Every little bit we can do on education, prevention and treatment will make a difference, because early intervention really does help.