Stop talking and start mending things with your addicted child

Photo of teen girl talking to woman.One way I have learned to improve my relationships with my adult children whose issues with substance abuse bothered me is to remember to keep my big mouth shut…tight!  My friend says “I have the right to remain silent; I just don’t have the ability to!” Finally, I’m given a reason for my behavior – I’m powerless over the desire to comment!  A symptom of co-dependency, it perpetuates my unhappiness with the outcomes.  Even though I’m aware of the negative consequences, I forget the tools that help me behave differently. Slowly, I remember those tools before my tongue takes over and my ability to communicate with maturity improves.

I use to override or completely miss the signs that the other person doesn’t want to engage or is put off by something I have said. I tend to do this uncensored with the ones closest to me. For example, I want to offer advice that wasn’t requested from me or offer a better solution to something they share. Their reaction is silence, withdrawn or irritated outburst. Outbursts are unpleasant, but silence seems worse! The sound of silence triggers my need to break it with a question. Questions can be aggressive. Usually, I ask prying questions under the guise of being loving or interested. A question can put people on the defensive and coupled with substance abuse, there is also an open invitation for lying. Questions can also be perceived as prying and nosey. That is not the kind of mother I want to be and if I had continued without change, I would have pushed others further away from me – the exact opposite of what I desire!

Understanding my role in the family disease has helped me appreciate the significance of the slogan W.A.I.T.    This is an acronym I picked up in Al-Anon which stands for “why am I talking?” A good reminder to keep my urge to say something in check.  Another problem with questions is I’m usually not prepared for the answer! I’ve grabbed onto the saying, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know!” Learning to listen and accept the situation, without comment, gets easier the more I practice. I have come to realize that silence is not unpleasant but rather a time I can compose myself to breathe, invite my Higher Power in, and be mindful of my own character defects.

To learn more about communicating successfully with your loved ones, explore Parent Pathway’s Meeting in a Box: Communication

The perils of parenting a substance-abusing adult child

It has been said over and again, parents are the biggest influence over their children.  I must of thought that meant for life.  There were times I might have had a moment of influential pride – what I call the “my child is an honor student syndrome.”  I never went so far as to affix it to my car bumper! I was more apt to give my children credit where credit was due.  THEY worked hard at it…HE always had a love for basketball…HE was driven to pursue…I don’t know where they got it!”  But there are situations where rightful ownership is distorted by pride –  “Yep, that’s my boy!” With unsaid attitude: “I raised ‘em right!”

When behavior turns risky and substance abuse leads to addiction, the parental influence becomes nonexistent.  But, like me, most parents don’t stop trying to reclaim their influence.  And if crime related incidences by underage adults happen, we are quick to blame the parents casting quick judgment – “she deserves imprisonment” – “How can the parents allow that to happen?”

Like most of us struggling with an addict in the family, I stressed with martyrdom.  I spent every waking moment trying to prevent or stop the unthinkable consequences of the risky behavior.  I acted as if I had the ability to stop it.  I acted like I caused it.  I acted to regain that parental influence I was entitled to have!  I’ll admit there was a bit of guilt, what I call the  “what will the neighbor’s think syndrome.”

The flip side of giving credit where credit is due is taking responsibility for something I don’t own, good or bad.  It’s easier to allow them the glory of success than to allow them the dignity of living with a disease.  Who wouldn’t give their right arm to take away their pain?  What good did it do in trying?   It is this distorted thinking that causes further problems in helping my children recover from their drug addiction.   The perils of parenting are for life but it’s never too late to improve on it.

I can run, but I can’t hide from substance abuse in the Family

Trying to manage addiction is like willing a train to stop. No matter how hard I concentrate on it, the train is moving with or without me. Depending on my location, I either get run over, passed by, moved or left behind.  Ultimately, addiction moved on but I lost who I was and what was really important to me. I remember my job’s demands were accelerating parallel to the addiction progression in my family. I was traveling several weeks a year away from home and I looked forward to leaving. I fantasized that if I could move far, far, away, the problems would go away. But the worry never left, nor did the problems when I returned home. I could engulf myself in long term projects to avoid feelings of failure as a mother. I heard a speaker at a 12-Step meeting say “everywhere I go, there I am!” and another said “nothing like Arkansas in the rear view mirror!” It made sense, intuitively; running away would not solve my problem because I was somehow connected to it.

At some point I had to face the reality. This was not going away or going to get better unless I decided to do something different. I had to make some changes, but how? Joining a support group with similar circumstances and seeking professional help was a good start. When I started to put the focus on myself and stop waiting for others to change, my life started to get better. My decision to change my behavior versus running away from the problems in my life was frightening at first. But overcoming this fear of unknown was worth the risk of continuing as is. Get on! Get off! Move out of the way…Do something within your control.

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.

Denial: Why I have trouble with the ones closest to me

Denial is a powerful escape from life’s serious problems. For me, reality takes on a distortion, and when I’m focused on my grown child I lose sight of what really is. My tendencies are to not see addiction. I don’t see isolation from family and social settings, and I don’t see self-centeredness, ego or anger to name a few. Unsettling behavior is hard to see with those closest to me. I can’t stand to see the suffering or struggles. Before the tools of recovery to help with my co-dependency issues, I stayed in denial because I didn’t know what to do. I felt obligated and responsible for the substance abuse but I did not know it was much bigger and more powerful than anything I had ever come across. With no tools and working on it alone, denial helped smooth over the trouble, minimizing big issues to a temporary manageable level.

Oddly, if the same behavior was exhibited by a stranger, at least I’d recognize certain signals: danger, concern, disrespect or insensitivity. Most likely I would not tolerate it. But to those I love? I don’t see it or my denial turns it into rationalization or normalization. I thought I would be able to help, but really? How? I’m incapable – I’m just too close. This is why I pray for the stranger, turn the rest over to a Power, greater than myself and for all matters that concern me; I let it begin with me.

To understand the coping mechanism that can perpetuate rather than solve the problem, check out Parent Pathway Meeting in a box: Denial.

Using the power of the mind to short-circuit addiction’s fears

It all starts with a thought. The thought creates a feeling. Feelings are not necessarily factual. For example, if I say to myself, “Tonight, I’m going to go out for dinner,” I begin to feel hungry and excited that I will get to be served with a meal that I really enjoy. My feelings change physiological conditions in my body. Maybe I begin to wear the Cheshire grin in anticipation or I might even be emitting endorphins, those “feel good” brain chemicals which in turn flood my veins resulting in a natural high. But the truth is, I might not be going out to dinner at all! It’s just a thought!

Loving someone whose substance abuse has led to terrible consequences resulted in a problem for me with regards to my thinking. My thoughts turned from optimistic to obsessive thinking about them. Eventually I began to be pessimistic about everything. I became overtaken by the gloom and doom that drug abuse causes.  This is called the family disease of addiction. These negative thoughts also impact my feelings. I’m worried, sad, fearful and anxious. With these kinds of feelings, my body takes on a dangerous reaction: high blood pressure, weight gain, blood sugar peaks, teeth grinding. My sleep was fitful and my ability to concentrate at work became problematic.

I found out this kind of circuitry can be interrupted with the power of my mind. I can choose to find help to get the tools necessary to regain control of my own thoughts! I also can choose to do nothing. The difference between these two statements: “Things upset me” versus “I upset me” are the most powerful thoughts to which my life goes one way or the other.

Parents United? If Mom and Dad don’t agree on parenting an addict

I doubt my husband and I carried a united front when problems started escalating in our family unit as a result of the drug use, abuse and addiction.    I can relate to stories of families that split apart due to strong opposing opinions, broken dreams, anger and frustration in the relationships.   Blame starts to take on a life of its own.

It seemed in my home, I was at times hesitant to bring attention, make a scene or confront the problem head on.  Then again, I was the one who was in the home, seeing the problems, finding the paraphernalia, answering the calls from teachers, neighbors or other parents.   It was if I was either in denial or tackling the issues head on.   But I don’t recall a shared vision of the seriousness of the problems in the beginning.  My husband would discipline if necessary (wait till your father gets home syndrome), go pick up the pieces of a totaled car, post bail or “man-handle” the recalcitrant teenager.  But he was also sensitive to my reactions and had growing concerns about his family.  At other times he would begin to lecture me on my parenting skills (in round about ways) and I would begin to resent his absence in the daily trauma-drama.  Those were the most difficult times in our relationship and it was a miracle we made it through.   But we did.  And it wasn’t because we are so clever or lucky.  We sought counseling and committed ourselves to get the help we needed and learn how to support our children whether in recovery or not.

Today we are united in what we will and will not allow (boundaries) when it comes to our own serenity and livelihood as a husband and wife, parents and as individuals.  We can discuss our feelings and concerns with issues that continue to challenge us and we are able to find a mutual ground before making a decision.  We have respect and accept each other’s opinions, even though we may not agree.   In a sense, we are now acting in a loving and kind way and we no longer have to lecture blame or scold. We have been through some troubling times like all the parents whose children fall prey to addiction.  We have also had amazing joy and happiness.  Not knowing what the future will bring, we can appreciate our life today and find solace that we may not have been united: we did the best we could with what we knew at the time.

When I grow up, I want to be a parent of a drug addict!

I was reminded of a public service announcement years ago for teenage drug abuse & addiction.  It depicted several small children, all darling and innocent. One says, “When I grow up, I want to be fireman.” Another says “when I grow up, I want to be a heroin addict.”  What?

Of Course! No one intentionally chooses addiction. So what happened?  It was not that long ago we all adorned our kids in their red “JUST SAY NO” t-shirts to school!

I once had a woman tell me she did not want to know more about the current drug epidemic in her neighborhood because “I am raising my children right!” This was at a drug take-back community event to get people to bring in their unused prescription pills.  Was it fear? Denial?  Other times I hear public officials suggest, “eat dinner every night with your children” in response to the growing concern of what parents can do for prevention measures. If it were only that simple: eating dinner and raising them right…

At first glance, a parent of a young child may hope that daily family venues, involvement in school and sporting events, and the like, will immunize their family from such dangers. I experienced otherwise. I have learned that matters of addiction and drug abuse are complicated. And no person ever said “when I grow up, I want to be a parent of a heroin addict!”  Christy Crandell, in her book, Lost & Found, tells the true story: even devoted parents whose active, supportive “traditional family” lifestyle does not negate drug addiction from shattering their lives.

I hope we can all let go of the stereotyping, flip answers that lead nowhere and old notions about addiction and prevention. Today’s culture is not yesterdays – “just say no” to old beliefs is more apropro. Learn as much as you can about current drug abuse, trends and addiction.  Ignorance is not bliss.

Dealing with Teen Substance Abuse

One of the most painful experiences that parents can encounter is when their teenaged child falls in with “the bad crowd” and becomes actively involved with drugs or alcohol. For the majority of parents, any element that can cause harm or injury to their beloved child will worry and pain them. Substance abuse is an incredibly difficult facet of a teenager’s life for a parent to endure.

A large number of people believe that, to stop abusing drugs and/or alcohol, you simply cease to imbibe any further. They erroneously see drug dependency and substance addiction as a collective problem for those who are in some way ethically weak. Unfortunately, it has become widespread opinion throughout society that drug abusers can simply alter, modify or stop their drug use behavior at will. This is obviously not the case. Many argue that the concept of substance addiction is heritable, and that both genetics and family background play an immense role in how a person formulates their own attitude towards drug use.

Because addiction in teenagers is generally characterized by recurring relapses and other temporary setbacks, those who are substance dependent do not expect to overcome their addiction immediately. Sadly, this typically dissuades them from trying at all, and they continue on their downward spiral. In order of prominence, the three steps that teens usually encounter are:

1. Experimentation: A teenager may give cigarettes, alcohol or drugs a try, and some may not partake any further after the first time.
2. Substance abuse: Experimenting with substances may lead to more regular use. Symptoms include a prominent increase in arguments, aggression or violence, and a considerable drop in school grades and interest in recreational activities.
3. Substance dependence: Also known as addiction, this all-consuming aspect can make your teen both physically and psychologically reliant on a particular substance to an extremely intense degree. At this juncture, teens have a higher proclivity for engaging in high-risk behaviors such as unprotected sex, and can suffer from paranoia, hostile mood swings and severe bouts of depression. This final step is the chronically progressive and possibly fatal component of the disease, and will succeed in siphoning off a substantial part of your teen’s life.

A complicated process is needed to reverse drug dependence. If you suspect that your teen has become involved with alcohol or substance abuse, you must confront them and ask. Voicing your concerns will save them from a great deal of pain and suffering. Find out what substances your teen has experimented with, and try to gauge the extent of their usage. Listen carefully to what they liked about the experience in the first place, and ask about their thoughts on quitting this drug-related behavior.

Discuss every concern you have together, provide drug education and talk about the awful consequences and long-term effects. Finally, ask for the professional help that only a doctor or mental health professional can provide. A drug treatment center can offer a warm and comforting setting where you can discuss your problems with others who also suffer the same symptoms. You will not regret this important decision and, while it may not seem like it now, recovery is closer than you think.

A Place of Hope’s Center for Counseling and Health Resources can help those seeking addiction treatment for illicit substance abuse addiction, prescription drug addiction, or problems relating to gambling, steroids, sedatives or alcoholism. Under the expert tutelage of Dr. Gregory Jantz, our dedicated team of addiction medical professionals, psychologists, nutritionists and fitness trainers will help you to address the physical and mental issues behind your symptoms. For more information, please visit us online at A Place Of Hope For Addiction or call toll free on 888-379-3372. Everyone deserves a healthy, well-balanced and addiction-free life.

Keeping our Kids safe – Why isn’t addiction on the parents lists of worries?

Early Intervention HelpsI was reflecting the other day on something that is perplexing and troubling. It’s perplexing because of the information I now have – which is the dangers of substance abuse for the developing adolescence brain.  What troubles me is how many parents of pre-teens/teens do not understand the gravity of the situation. I know when my kids were young I had fears about them being taken by strangers, getting hurt in a multitude of ways, falling ill by disease, the list goes on. But never on that list was the fear that they might use substances while in their adolescence and become addicted. Yet that is exactly what happened to my daughter. What is now perplexing to me is why as parents we do not have a fear of this on the list along with all the other fears. It is so obvious now, but it took a tragic situation to happen in order for me to learn what I now know.
Anything bad happening to our children is extremely tragic. What I am proposing is that we talk about safeguarding our kids from our worst fears like child abduction. We keep a close eye on where they are going and who they are with when they are young. We try to keep them healthy with diet and exercise so we lower their risk of disease. We work hard to keep them safe from having an accident in our homes or outside our homes. Yet I don’t believe that we have grasped the true dangers of our young adults becoming addicted when they experiment with alcohol and drugs. I know when I silently worried about my children; drug and alcohol addiction never crossed my mind. I believe it is because we don’t understand how the adolescent brain develops and how vulnerable it is until it has fully developed at the age of 25.  All of this has been information that I am fully aware of now, but as a young parent it was not in my arsenal of understanding. I know I would have done things different with what I now know. I also know that I am passionate about driving the awareness to other parents so they can help reduce the risks of their children becoming addicted.