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.
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.
It’s been said resentments are the dark rooms where negatives are developed. This conjures up a great deal of truth about resentments – all negative. For me, it always came when my sons did not do what I expected and when it really mattered. I usually had a financial or emotional investment in the action I was anticipating. Commonly defined as an emotional feeling resulting from fear or imagined wrong doing, resentments always kept me hostage to negativity; anger, sadness, frustration, contempt, tension.
As I work through the resentments I have harvested with regards to the family disease, I can see where my obsession with the addicts in my life was consuming me and thwarting any possibility of joy and happiness. Depending on other people for things that really mattered to me was the driving force behind my resentments. Since my perspective was disproportionately misdirected, it was as if THEY were held in higher standards than where I held myself. And my self worth was predicated on them…no wonder I spent so much time trying to control…
It’s been said the amount of time you spend thinking about something should be in this proportion: God first, me second, them 3rd! My understanding of resentments has come full circle, and though I do not find myself having these emotional feelings as much anymore, they are not far surfacing when life happens to throw a curve ball. The difference today is I have a better support system to help me accept what is going on. I have choices in how I react to it.
Try exploring how the expectations we have for our loved ones can set us up for happiness or sorrow in our Meetings in A Box: Expectations. You may discover your own dark room were negatives are developed. You may begin to ask what really matters.
Resentments are the dark rooms where negatives are developed. Resentments are expectations in waiting…for sure, it has negative connotations. Wikipedia defines resentment as an emotional feeling resulting from fear or imagined wrong done. They reference a professor of continental philosophy at the University of Texas, Robert C. Solomon. He categorizes resentment into one of 3 emotional continuums. The first is contempt: directed towards lower-status individuals, 2) anger: directed towards equal status individuals and 3) resentment: directed towards higher-status individuals.
Well, that’s interesting to me as I work through the resentments I have harvested with regards to the family disease. My obsession, which was consuming me, was with the addicts in my life. This was the driving force behind my resultant resentments. Since my perspective was disproportionately misdirected, it was as if THEY were held in higher standards than where I held myself. It’s been said the amount of time you spend thinking about something should be in this proportion: God first, me second, them third.! My understanding of resentments has come full circle and though I do not find myself having these emotional feelings as much as before, they are not far from surfacing when life happens to throw a curve ball. The difference today is I have a better support system to help me accept what is going on. More than anything, I have a Power, greater than myself, that can restore me to sanity. I do not have to be afraid or isolated in the dark room where negatives are developed!
I did not come to the rooms of the Al-Anon Family Group to get what I got. That said, what I got was so much more that what I expected. And what I expected I never got! In fact, many times I find that the contradictions, counter-intuitive measures, completely unexpected outcomes are points of humility which reveal how the universe (Higher Power) is more complex than my simple thinking. Things I use to say I don’t say anymore. I recall a time I said “well, at least there are no grandchildren involved!” Shortly thereafter my son’s girlfriend announced she was pregnant. Wrong again! (Truth is today there are no grandchildren, but this too may pass!) Another time I thought, “at least my youngest son hasn’t substance abused.” Wrong again.
I have learned to remove (or use very cautiously) some words from my vocabulary: NEVER, ALWAYS, MUST, IF ONLY, and WHAT IF, to name a few. I have replaced the old adage: “no news is good news” to “no news is no news”. This reminds me that when I make assumptions based on non-truths, I’m in trouble. Though the saying “its 5 o’clock somewhere” rings some truth to it, if it’s not 5 o’clock where I am, then I don’t need to think about it somewhere else! Seems simple enough, but this type of thinking is very difficult to break. With no news right now I stay in the moment and accept that bad news, good news, world news, whatever news may be occurring, is not for me to dwell on. Put simply, until presented with news of any kind, I can live today, in this moment, and not react to upcoming unknowns out there that I have not yet heard about. Notice I did not mention any problem of obsessing with what wonderful experience and good news story is waiting to unfold? I’m hard wired for doom & gloom. By saying “no news is good news” I was fooling myself into believing this as true. It’s a form of denial and self imposed set-up for a possible disappointment!
My son tells me things – whether it’s what he plans to do in the future, or just what happened in his day. I am drugged by his words. This thinking is so powerful; I completely believe what I hear, even though there may be a conflict with his actions. “I’m going to do this and that” and neither is done. I end up getting resentful because I have built up an expectation based on what he said. For the co-dependent that I am, this is a daily occurrence that I have to be aware of. With false expectations, my actions are, consciously or not, based on how I perceive the outcome. You told me this, so I expect that. You are not capable; I will do it for you and manage the project I have taken on by virtue of what is said. I will take it to the next level and inquire about where you are on that matter, did you follow-up? Here’s a reminder… what’s the status on…you get the picture. Just trying to be helpful!
I realize this is my problem because I’m the only one bothered by it. It’s not limited to my son; it shows up in all my affairs. Inevitably, someone gets disappointed. Usually it’s me that gets hurt, and my resentful reaction is typically sarcasm – it’s not pretty, so really everyone gets hurt. Just the other day I got in a snit with my husband. My interpretation of what he was telling me was not what he was actually doing. Naturally, I felt compelled to point this out to him and that went over like a lead balloon. And I wonder how that happened! What did I miss? I was drugged by his words, thinking they were factual, and I completely missed what he was actually doing. If I can remember to stay in my business, be a better listener AND if I watch the behavior, I can be assured that I’m living in the moment and have a better awareness of where truth and facts are. My expectations are minimized, or at least, closer to reality. This is a hard to overcome. When I’m impaired by someone’s lips moving, I should not be the designated driver.
There was a time when my day’s outcome, good or bad, depended on how my sons were doing. As I drove home from work, I’d come around the bend and the voices in my head would shift from obsessive work related issues to my family’s situation. I’d start guessing about the daily drama, possible outcomes, and strategies I must take. I usually had a feeling of dread and impending doom – if they were doing well, I’d find temporary relief. If they were not doing well, my feelings of resentment and constant worry would take center stage. Then, in preparation for a good nights’ sleep, the gears in my mind would churn great sadness and an overwhelming desire to go back in time and change the course of the future. If only I had done something sooner, if only I had changed schools, if only I had …I was possessed by the loud click-clack-clang in my head!
Today I no longer dwell on would haves or could haves. I have freedom from compulsive thoughts of possible outcomes dreamt up in my head. One thing is certain, all that mindless matter never helped and mostly it hurt. When I accepted that I did not cause the disease of addiction, I could not control it, and I could not cure it – those feelings became false and the thoughts began to dissipate. There is something to be said about embracing each day and staying in the present. Today, I do not have to project about tomorrow or next week. Today, I do not have to re-live days gone by, or wish them different. I work on what’s in front of me today, one day at a time, and it quiets my thoughts. My day’s outcome, good or bad depends on me. I can choose my attitude - do I want click-clack-clang or a well lubricated mechanism driving my thoughts?
ACT 1: THE EXPECTATION
June brings memories. Traditional high school graduation activity returns me back momentarily to a time that was fraught with emotions: elation as well as disappointments and regrets.
I desperately believed that when and if my first born child finished high school, everything would be better. Finish high school meant participating in the main event: the graduation ceremony. But the years, months and weeks prior to graduation were filled with doubt, anxiety and worry. His graduating was definitely important to me; I had a lot of expectations around it. Imagine the difficulty in “pre-orders” for announcements…invitations, gown & cap, to name a few – what if he didn’t make the grade? How do you plan a graduation reception with relatives and friends if you are not even sure? I was certain I was the only parent with this kind of worry. Graduation is an expensive ordeal– not just the ceremony but all the school events and merchandising around it. My worry about the investment and fanfare for naught was a driving force in my obsessive behavior to make this happen and if it did not happen, I would be very resentful.
He did graduate and I’ll never forget how proud I was and how much I had banked on that event being the solution to all my problems with him. Life lessons have shown me otherwise.
Addiction is a progressive disease. As my beloved child struggled into adulthood, he had many accomplishments all shadowed with the dark & negative impact of drug addiction. The tug of the drug would be his driver and I had no control over it. A few years of recovery would reveal that graduation from high school should have been the furthest concern for this loving parent. With a new perspective, what seems important just isn’t! Turns out, expectations breed resentments!