Changing perspectives to enjoy the blessings along the way

Woman With Butterfly Wings Flying On Fantasy Sea Sunset, RelaxatIn Scenes of  Clerical Life, George Eliot wrote, “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us and we only know them when they are gone.” Eliot must have been writing about me.  I’m guilty as charged of being so immersed in the past and wrapped up in future “What if’s?” that I overlook the present.  Take this admittedly embarrassing example:  last week, I found myself quite challenged by the final pages of a book.  The text seemed choppy, the story line absent…..and then I realized I had been reading the appendix of the book and didn’t even know it.  Where was I when the actual story ended and the appendix began?  Drifting off to sleep in the bathtub; but still, my personal alarm should have shrilled “Be here now!”

So what does this have to do with addiction?  I ruminate on past hurts and mistakes and concentrate too much on future worries (which clearly exist only in my mind).  All the while, the present slips away like sand in an hourglass.

One of my resolutions is to change my perspective, to shift the focus off my son’s addiction, to stop pigeon-holing him with the way I think.  Not to diminish addiction’s ever-present power, but instead to view the whole of my son in a fuller context as a joyous, bright, generous and kind young man who also happens to be in recovery.

When I shift my focus and see the whole of my child, the difficult past and unknown future loosens its grip , creating a clearer vista where I may get a glimpse of the angels at work in my life today.

Healthy Brains – How happy thoughts can lead to serenity

brain healthA while back, I caught Dr. Daniel Amen on TV talking about his book, Magnificent Mind at Any Age.  I am interested in his work, especially since I discovered that the nutritional supplements he recommends seem to help with depression.  When my son was first struggling to become sober, he carried his vitamins and nutrients everywhere with him in a shoe box.  They kept him on an even keel and took the edge off, much as opiates had done.

Dr. Amen claims that SPEC brain scans reveal that people who think happy thoughts show much “healthier” brain activity than those who think sad thoughts.  I didn’t catch his definition of healthy brain activity, but no matter:  the point is that you improve your brain function when you are optimistic and positive, rather than negative.  That sounds quite Disneyesque and is a tall order for the mother of a teen drug addict, but what have you got to lose?

This approach also dovetails well with that handy Al-Anon slogan, “Fake it till you make it,” which helped me get through many difficult hours.  During my son’s active addiction, I awoke most mornings riddled with anxiety. Anticipating some sort of crisis, I greeted each day with a fight or flight state, ready to leap into action and deal with the missing son or the car accident or the threatening phone call.  It took a lot of mental muscle-building (and a good therapist) for me to learn to talk myself off the ledge.  Now when I am stressed, I flip the switch and reach for Smiley Faces instead of the Grim Reaper, faith instead of fear.  That very conscious and deliberate action helps me feel calmer and—yes—happier.

Trust me, I am very much a work in progress.  I was born in a state of High Alert, but as I learn how my brain works, I am equipping myself with some powerful tools to reclaim my serenity.

Kindness and support for parents of addicts and alcoholics

kindness of others along the journeyWhile cleaning out my office this week, I came across a dusty folder from 2007.  It contained phone numbers of people who tried to help me and my son get help.  I can barely see these kind souls through the hazy recollection of chaos and confusion.  They were referrals from someone who knew someone who knew someone who had gone to rehab, or seen a certain counselor, or found a good 12-step program or interventionist.

I was utterly at the mercy of strangers.  My child’s disintegration took place in fits and starts:  one day all was well, the next day he was imploding, then perhaps he settled back into a relatively normal routine, or so it seemed.  Along the way, I interviewed various counselors, school officials and doctors on the phone, trying to find one who would “stick.”  They were all generous with their time, compassionate and earnest.  I imagine many of them didn’t spot addiction as the root cause of the meltdown…or maybe they did and tried to tell me and I couldn’t hear it.

I found emails from school counselors who tried to steer him to classes where he could succeed….phone numbers of young men who were in recovery and willing to sponsor….the name of the interventionist who convinced him that detox was better than a life on the streets…a note I scribbled when his boss called my number “by mistake” to see why he was late for work.  Looking back, I see that misdial as a subtle attempt to flag me that something was awry.

I never actually met any of these people, and they certainly have no idea how their kindness kept us from sinking entirely. The dusty folder that reminded me of them also reminds me how important it is to reach out to others in big and little ways.


Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

hands in shape of heart“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

- Melody Beattie

 

 

A child’s addiction and leaps of faith

Chaos of AddictionI took an anatomy class a while back, and one day we talked about the ways that energy manifests itself in the human body.  Along the way, we discussed how hard it is to believe something that we cannot see.  In response, my teacher pulled out his iPhone and showed us his newest app.  When he traced the screen with his fingertip, a corona of light splayed out, and the light show followed his finger as he traced it across the screen.

Another student blurted out—only somewhat in jest–“If only I had that app, I’d have faith.”  Faith, like human energy, can be hard to see in action and impossible to quantify.  Yet we often need to “see it before we believe it.”  So that begs the question: what does faith look like?  What does trusting the universe look like in my daily life?”

I can tell you what faith doesn’t look like:  faith doesn’t look like the endless struggle, arm-wrestling and exhaustion that is the keynote of parenting a chemically-dependent child.

Faith is a hard – and as simple as admitting, “I can’t do this by myself.  I’m bowing out and letting my Higher Power take over.”  When accustomed to battling your child’s substance abuse, that can be crazy hard to do.  But leaps of faith are just that:  leaps into thin air made possible by the belief that in a power that is a magical and real as a corona of light—on heaven, on earth, or on an iPhone app.

Note to self, from the parent of a young man in recovery

Stack of love letters on rustic wooden planks backgroundA while back, Interventionist and Family Counselor Ricki Townsend sent a powerful e-mail to some of her friends after reading Wayne Dyer’s children’s book, No Excuses.    Ricki wrote, “We must remind ourselves and our children that they can become anything THEY want to be at any time in their lives.  Too often, we start to get in the muck with them instead of surrounding them with love and light and the possibilities of who they can be.  I love this children’s book because it prompted me to remember that I need to hold that vision for our children when they are forgetting it.  The journey is THEIR choice to make.  They must want the new improved life for themselves more than we do.  No, it doesn’t happen overnight, but with each step they can grow, head in the right direction and find peace.”

Thanks, Ricki, for sharing your wisdom on this critical point.  Note to self: keep out of the muck, stay out of the way, leave it up to my son to learn what it’s like to be dirty—or clean; to be addicted—or to be free.

After all, that decision is his to make, as are all the decisions he needs to make as a young adult.  And I can’t be more committed to his recovery than he is.  Epiphany! My powerlessness is really a gift to him, and to me. It frees me, and it puts the burden of responsibility on him, where it rightfully belongs. That’s a journey towards health that I can lovingly support.

The Kindness of Others in the Midst of a Child’s Substance Abuse

We can each make a difference to someone else, even if we are reaching out in the midst of our own grief and struggle. By helping others, we help ourselves….

 

While cleaning out my office this week, I came across a dusty folder from 2007.  It contained phone numbers of people who tried to help me and my son get help while he struggled with chemical dependency.  I can barely see these kind souls through the hazy recollection of chaos and confusion.  They were referrals from someone who knew someone who knew someone who had gone to rehab, or seen a certain counselor, or found a good 12-step program or interventionist.

I was utterly at the mercy of strangers.  My child’s disintegration took place in fits and starts:  one day all was well, the next day he was imploding, then perhaps he settled back into a relatively normal routine, or so it seemed.  Along the way, I interviewed various counselors, school officials and doctors on the phone, trying to find one who would “stick.”  They were all generous with their time, compassionate and earnest.  I imagine many of them didn’t spot addiction as the root cause of the meltdown…or maybe they did and tried to tell me and I couldn’t hear it.

I found emails from school counselors who tried to steer him to classes where he could succeed….phone numbers of young men who were in recovery and willing to sponsor….the name of the interventionist who convinced him that detox was better than a life on the streets…a note I scribbled when his boss called my number “by mistake” to see why he was late for work.  Looking back, I see that misdial as a subtle attempt to flag me that something was awry.

I never actually met any of these people, and they certainly have no idea how their kindness kept us from sinking entirely. The dusty folder that reminded me of them also reminds me how important it is to reach out to others in big and little ways.

Letting go of grief over your child’s substance abuse

Photo of Ricki TownsendFor parents whose children struggle with substance abuse, the New Year gives us an opportunity to start fresh and welcome new, healthier attitudes or behaviors. But what happens if we find ourselves clenching grief or loss so tightly that we cannot embrace happiness or joy? Ricki Townsend, a family counselor and interventionist who helps families work thought grief, shares some ideas about letting go.

“We have dreams and hopes for our children as they grow and discover life. Then one day we wake up to find they have become involved in the battle of addiction. And so our life as we hoped it would be has changed. As parents, we may find we have trouble sleeping, we may start to have health issues, we may find ourselves crying or even angry over the simplest of things. Please look at the possibility that you are grieving the loss of your child as you knew him or her.

Grief and loss are naturally interwoven into addiction. Grief is different for each one of us, but please don’t discount it. We put so much energy into getting back our child that we often forget about ourselves. Here are some ways to deal with your grief:

  • If you acknowledge that you are grieving, I invite you to work through the grieving process with a counselor who will help you understand your losses and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.
  • Grief can feel suffocating.  A good exercise to release grief is to take a very deep breath, hold it tightly and then release it slowly. You will feel your body calm down. It is also therapeutic to cry in the shower or yell in the car or smash pillows with a tennis racquet—anything physical to vent your sorrow, your anger, your disappointment.
  • You might also want to write a letter to whatever is running your life—addiction, fear, remorse—and tell it that you are taking back your life.  You can also write down your sorrows and regrets and burn them in a fireplace or “burning bowl.”  The important thing is to symbolically purge your “if only’s” so that you can free yourself to live more in the moment.
  • There are also some great books that will help support our recovery. Check out The
    Grief Recovery Handbook
    by John W. James and Russell Friedman or The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson.

It is up to each of us to ‘push the clouds away’ in order to be happy. Don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t become a victim—you have the power to reclaim your serenity.  Best wishes for a healthy New Year.”   

Ricki Townsend

 

 

Innocents Lost – from teens experimenting to addiction

dealing with teen substance abuseWhen I was young, my deepest worry involved getting in trouble if the neighbors pegged me as the culprit who mutilated their perfect lawn.  The inconvenient right angle of their corner lot cut a good 20 seconds off my bike race course, so I decided to lop off that pesky right angle over and over and over until I carved a deep furrow into their dichondra.  Oops!  And I have a distinct memory of getting yelled at by another neighbor for picking glorious flowers for my mom from that neighbor’s back yard. I apparently had boundary issues, even then.

These childish transgressions had very innocent motives. I didn’t intend to ruin the lawn; I just wanted to go faster.  I wasn’t stealing from a neighbor; I was sharing a beautiful bounty with my mom.

My son’s first tiptoe into alcohol or opiates was probably innocent in its own way. I imagine that he just wanted a quick fix:   to have fun, fit in, be the bold one in the crowd, be less anxious, be popular, be comfortable in his own skin, be happy.  He – and millions of other kids who become addicted, certainly don’t intend to ruin their lives with that first drink or pill.  They certainly don’t know that one out of ten who experiment will go on to substance abuse and then spiral down into full-blown addiction.

Parents and teens need to understand the deadly gamble so they will take the hard right angle, avoid the shortcut, and  resist the siren song of the poppies, no matter how beautifully they beckon.

Spreading understanding of teen substance abuse

teenage alchoholismThose of us who know teen substance abuse firsthand are unwitting invitees to a private party where we can share both heartbreak and healing amongst ourselves, cry together, support each other, and find hope amidst the ruins, hand in hand with our sisters or brothers.  I am so thankful for the privacy of the community where I have found support and solutions; at the same time, I yearn for the larger world to have an accurate understanding of the disease of addiction/ alcoholism.  Prevention and educational efforts will take place on a meaningful level only when our children’s substance abuse is acknowledged as a national problem.

Whitney Houston’s death may serve to open the curtains on addiction.  While some may disparage her as an addict who “didn’t have willpower and chose to die,” other influential voices that tell a different story are now being heard.   Dr. Drew continues to authoritatively speak the truth about the ravages of this chronic disease as it kills those in the public eye.  Jamie Lee Curtis wrote boldly about fame and the disease of addiction in the Huffington Post.

How can we parents support this critical awareness without jeopardizing our family’s privacy or “outing” our children to their detriment?  Some ideas to consider:  spread the word about the disease of addiction by “liking” the Jamie Lee Curtis post.  Share the Collision Course- Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary with your friends and family:  you can view the entire 27-minute documentary online and even order a copy of the documentary for your schools or community.  Please join this conversation and share with us the ways you are helping others understand addiction as a public health crisis.