If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again, and again and again

Making progress with recoveryHow many times did my daughter relapse before she committed to living a clean and sober life?   I don’t know the answer to that question and I bet if I asked my daughter, she would be hard pressed to know the accurate answer – I’m guessing her answer would be ‘a lot!’  I remember early in the journey when I was very naïve about addiction and thought when she went into a 28 day rehab, ‘finally she will be okay!’  Little did I know that was just the beginning of a long journey of trials and tribulations.  Not only for my daughter to overcome her addiction but also for myself to overcome my addiction to my daughter!  That’s how my codependency manifested itself, like an addiction to my daughter and her every move.  What is she doing?  Is she safe?  Where is she?  Will she call?  The questions and worry in my mind played over and over again like the obsession that it had become.  I distinctly remember one of her counselors telling me, ‘she’ll start getting better when you stop enabling her.’  Huh?  Excuse me…I’m not giving her the drugs!

But when I finally internalized what she was telling me, it became clear that I did not the power to control what my daughter did, I did play a key part in making it easy for her to continue in her addiction.  When I started taking away the comforts and started holding her accountable for her actions instead of bailing her out, she started making progress.  Not because of me but because she had to make difficult choices.  One of the biggest turning points was when I made an agreement with her that I would pay for her sober living rent but nothing else.  She had a job so she would have to budget her money for food and other necessities.  She didn’t like it at first, but over time her self-esteem soared as she took responsibility for her life.  It was so gratifying to watch.  Having a job and responsibilities is very healing for those in recovery.

Which way is not in the way of my child’s struggle with addiction?

bigstock-Right-Decision-Wrong-Decision-11944676 (2)When my son was released from incarceration the 2nd time, I was better equipped to not come rescuing like the first time. The first time I arranged to meet him, buy him clothes, toiletries and a hotel room until he found a sober living situation.  I paid for his lodging and soon followed with food shopping extravaganzas.  Though I believed I was cautiously treading and not helping to the extreme, he was indirectly relying on my assistance and I was relying on his success.

I was reminded that each time I helped in matters he was capable of doing himself; he did not have to focus on the necessities of life.  Since those were being “handled” by me, he could focus on other things which may or may not result in favorable outcomes.  I carried a hidden expectation that he would find a job and become self sufficient.  It ultimately became clear addiction and all the consequences that go with it trumped us all.

It’s a fine line to walk as a mother.  Naturally, there are choices one takes, but, if my actions, no matter how innocent or caring, interferes with my son doing for himself, then it’s the wrong thing to do. And here’s a mind bender – I’m still fooling myself if I try to control someone by withholding help if I attach an expectation to it!  The “I won’t buy you food, so you will be forced to work!” control mentality.  And helping because it makes me feel better doesn’t fly with me anymore.  Such disrespect SHOUTS “I’m helping because you are not capable and it kills me to see it” – that is not the message I really want to convey!

Getting out of the way is that way!  It’s the way I can give with no hidden, read-the-fine-print mommy babble because it keeps a healthy boundary between us both. There are no strings attached.  He may go right or left and it’s not my business.  Such was my lesson.  I was once again reminded that I’m powerless over this disease.  I was once again reminded that if I could not or would not accept the powerlessness part, then I would always be in conflict with him and play a critical role in contributing to the cunning, baffling nature of the disease.  I had to get out of the cage and stop dancing with the gorilla.  My sons’ 2nd chance has thus far had drastic favorable results and he gets all the credit.  All I did was get out of the way with a strong belief he is capable of figuring it out, whatever “it” is. (And I pray for the stranger).

There is no ‘Right’ Answer – Every family must do what is in their heart

hands in shape of heartOften we are faced with decisions that we need to make on whether we will help our loved one in addiction.  When we first start dealing with the wreckage of a loved one’s addiction we are often uninformed and ill equipped about what to do, I know I was.  It seemed whatever I did just made things worse and I became more resentful.  For example many addicts go from rehab to a sober living house.  Although many times there is an agreement that if they relapse they need to figure out where they will go and not give them an option to come home.  Yet when the dreaded relapse occurs, we are faced with this heart wrenching decision – do we leave them out in the cold or take them in?

I’m not for one decision or the other – both have consequences which can be very unpleasant or it could have a good outcome.   In my experience we did what we felt in our heart when faced with difficult decisions.   And sometimes the outcome was not good for my daughter and actually enabled her to keep going down a dark road.  The bottom line is that there is no ‘right’ answer.  Many people will have opinions on what to do – very strong opinions.  But in the end it’s your child and you have to make the decision that is best for you and your situation.  We need to look at each decision and think about whether it will help or whether it will hinder the health and well-being of the people involved.  With each decision and outcome we learn, we adjust, and keep moving forward.  Each family has to work together and make the next ‘right’ decision for their circumstance.

Building your arsenal for the next drug or alcohol crisis

Most parents with a kid, no matter what age, who struggles with addiction, find themselves constantly investigating, thinking, consulting and planning what to do next. With every relapse or major bump in the road, you stop and take a look at what actions have been taken thus far and what you feel is the next ‘right’ thing to do.

At the beginning of the journey of my teen’s struggle with substance abuse I did not have the resources, so I discussed these things with friends and family. They had not experienced this situation with their own kids, so they had difficulty relating.

Eventually, I had an arsenal of resources: the counselors at the rehabilitation center, Al-Anon Family Support, close friends who also had kids struggling with addiction and various books and articles. I learned that it was important to draw on these resources when decisions needed to be made or when I needed insight to keep perspective on what was happening from time to time.

It is important to build these resources to have on hand.  Many times when we are under duress we do not think too clearly. I remember not being at my best when I was upset and full of fear and worry about what might befall my loved one. I often would get stuck and at a loss for what to do. Once I built my support system – going to weekly Al-Anon meetings for parents, reading daily inspiration from others who had struggled through the same path, and various counselors and professionals – I had a way to get the help I needed when I needed it to do the next ‘right’ thing to help my loved one.

Hula Hoop Visual – a mother’s tool for the family disease of addiction

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.

Triggers and Teen Addiction….How Do you Just Say “No?”

I imagine my beloved and chemically-dependent child has triggers that may send him ever so slightly in the direction of relapse.  I have triggers of my own that sometimes push me towards an unhealthy engagement with my son, back to the Neolithic days of enabling, co-dependency, anger, despair and addiction to his addiction.

It’s difficult to convey to others how triggers can launch me with the power of a catapult into a place of anger and heartache.  How could a simple white lie or overlooked obligation raise my blood pressure and my ire so quickly?  Why are things like this—so innocuous and commonplace to others—so upsetting to me?  Its’ because they bring back a dark, contentious past of hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart combat with the Enemy Addiction.  The most powerful triggers have the ability to transport me back to the bad old days almost instantly and unconsciously.

Author Anne Lamott talks about her own triggers in her book, Grace (Eventually)  Thoughts on Faith, “I did not explain or justify my triggers…because trigger implies weapons, weapons imply aim, aim implies combat, combat implies engagement. All I wanted was to feel less engaged, less stuck: I wanted to let it go….I wanted to be a person of peace, who diminishes hurt in the world, instead of perpetuating it.”

Isn’t that what we all want as we walk away from the war zone of chemical dependency?  How to reach that space of peaceful disengagement and serenity is another thing entirely.  Some of us “Let go and let God.”  Others find relief with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  And I’ve heard about repeating a mantra over and over when contronting a trigger.  How do you neutralize your triggers so they don’t derail your own recovery?

Dealing with a Child’s Addiction/Alcoholism: It’s an Inside Job

What possibilities can the upcoming New Year usher into my life?  As the parent of a teen who struggled with chemical dependency, I often watched the world go by through some dim, damaged lenses. I’ve been on the lookout for victims or someone to blame (myself included); I’ve made myself a nervous wreck while awaiting disasters that never materialized. I’ve anticipated every flavor and incarnation of relapse so that I would be prepared when it happened.  Trust me—relapse happened many, many times in my mind before my son ever experienced it. and it was unnecessarily painful.

How would my world be different if I looked for:

  • someone to thank instead of someone to blame
  • someone to admire, rather than someone to judge
  • something to cherish instead of something to hate

Would this change in perspective protect my child from drugs and alcohol?  Most assuredly not.  Would it protect me from me?  Would it keep me from resorting to my sorry habits, like imagining impending disaster around every bend?  Yep– changing my focus could be a game-changer for me.

So I plan to write my bad habits on scraps of paper and ceremoniously ignite them on New Year’s Eve.  Some call that a “burning bowl” ceremony; I call it creating a healthier vista on my world, a vista that I can shape. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, “And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been.”

When a Storm is Brewing – Coping with relapse

For those of us who have lived with loved ones in addiction, you start to sense when things are beginning to go awry. It isn’t one thing that happens but a series of little things you begin to notice. Like fewer texts or phone calls, a sort of distance in the conversation. There are times when we sense something is happening but we can’t quite put a finger on it. Maybe it’s a Mom’s instinct or maybe we also get better at watching for certain signs. Things sometimes begin to shift to a different place in the journey – of each of us on our own and with each other. Things begin to be different than before, yet the same in some ways.


Then it seems we get the dreaded call that there has been a relapse. It never falls that our hearts sink knowing that our loved one is out and using again. Yet over time it becomes different, not because we become hardened or immune, but because we begin to understand that it is there journey. We understand that we can still love them just the same even with the difficult choices and actions they choose. I don’t think the situation ever gets easier, but how we respond and take care of ourselves in the process can get better. Over time I knew that I couldn’t let the actions of my loved one tear my life apart every time something occurred. I would try my best to detach with love and continue with my life as best I could. Of course there was a lot of praying for my loved one and my family to get through the difficult times. I began to realize that this was my loved ones journey and I was resolved to keep perspective about how it affected me.

When boundaries get muddled with your loved one in addiction

When my son finished his rehab program, he wanted to move back home.  He had not lived with us for several years and we tried to accommodate his request thinking it would be easier for him to transition.  I wanted to have some clear boundaries though.  Rules were set and once again I was no longer mom, but the guard-on-duty for all matters in my house.   After 5 weeks or so, he started slipping, drug tests not taken or forged when failed.  Slowly excuses became the norm.   At some point I recognized that a full relapse was in force and many months of agony ensued.   What I did not recognize was my own relapse – how my clear boundaries were muddled and hazy.  I kept thinking I had control over him and at the same time these blatant lies, deceit and cover-ups were overlooked by me.  It was almost as if I wanted to BELIEVE his words and not have to address the white elephant in the room.  I was getting resentful having to perform daily monitoring, weekly meetings, time out of my schedule, and money out of my pocket past, present and the future.   

He was 24 years old at the time.  When we agreed to pay for a sober living environment, he was all for it.  He picked the place too – that was my idea – to not be calling the shots.  In time he was asked to leave, followed by excuses.  This time I realized my powerlessness.  Though disappointed, my boundaries were clear.  We support recovery and will pay for sober living.  IF he can’t stay sober or chooses not to live in that environment, then he stays somewhere else – his choice.  My agreement was to pay for sober living.  Crystal clear!  He is, after all, a young man independent of me and has experienced consequences from this disease that no amount of “I told you so’s” would equal. 

The beauty of clear boundaries is that I can stay calm and not get caught up in the drama and doubt.  I don’t have to listen to the excuses; he doesn’t feel compelled to offer them anymore!   I don’t have to monitor his sobriety, his friends, his actions – I don’t want to either!  I can’t control him and that alone I am certain. I am grateful we had the opportunity and financial means to send him to rehab early on.  What gives me comfort is accepting we did the best we could with the knowledge we had.  I know he was exposed to another way of living in a 12-step recovery program.  As I learned more about the disease and my part in it, I yearned for a relationship based on love unconditionally.  I accept his choices and my clearly defined boundaries help me steer away from the agony of involvement.  Such miss-directed actions of involvement; mentally, financially and spiritually, only fuels my doubt or entitlement.  It clouds my thoughts, makes me fearful and provides a false sense of control over something much bigger and more powerful than I. 

Ask the Expert: Should we let our addicted daughter live with us?

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)YOUR QUESTION: My daughter has been in-n-out of rehab and sober living centers for the past 7 years. She has been a chronic relapser with an opiate addition. She also liked to mix zanax and alchohol. She recently got kicked out of her sober living center for drinking and has no where to go but home. She says she has no desire to going back to drug use, and will continue to work her program outside a sober living center. She would like us to pay for her apartment, but experience tells me that’s not the right thing. So.. she has been living at home (thus far uneventful) for the past 3 days. I guess the question I have is – should we let her live here and see if she can stay clean, kick her out, or get her an apartment ?

prison for addicts Brad DeHavenEXPERT BRADLEY DEHAVEN: Given the circumstances, it doesn’t appear you have a choice (which is not uncommon). Duplicate the rules of sober living at your home including random drug and alcohol testing, curfew, etc. Trust is earned and any addict in recovery will understand that. Living with you is a privilege. Also, any adult living in your home should contribute in every way possible. Where there is life there is hope! Hang in there and never give up!

Photo of Christy CrandellEXPERT CHRISTY CRANDELL: Right now, while it seems like you are helping her, you are really enabling her to continue her destructive lifestyle. If she is serious about working a program, then she will find another sober living center and abide by the rules as she is still obviously struggling with her addictions.

It is my opinion that she not live at your home NOR do you pay for an apartment for her. While I know this sounds harsh and it is hard to think of your daughter as being homeless, she has to take responsibility for her choices to continue drinking and using drugs.

Every county has an access number to get help to those in the community that are suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness. Give this number to her and tell her you will support her as long as she is actively involved in a program.

Finally, I would recommend you go to an Al-Anon meeting, specifically one for parents who have kids who are struggling with addiction. This will help you make good decisions both for yourself and your daughter as you travel on this difficult journey. Most of all, do not despair as many people find recovery every day!