By John Palmer - BSW, Director of Professional Development at Turnbridge Drug Rehab for Young Men and Women
Below is a compilation of 4 personal actions, and professional suggestions, I have taken, as they have provided me with the ability to deal with my emotions around my addicted child.
Acceptance: Accept that you cannot fix your child….you would have already if that were possible. YOU ARE POWERLESS.
Go Where The People Are: There are numerous support Groups available to parents of addicts in your area (All it takes is a quick Google search). Al-Anon and Nar-Anon (12 Step based) meetings are plentiful and help from others who have been there before is available. Your son is being encouraged to attend 12-Step recovery meetings (where the people are) at his rehab center and connect with people “like him.” You too can benefit from other parents’ experience, strength and hope when dealing with emotions, fears and the stressors associated with your new role. YOU ARE NOT ALONE UNLESS YOU CHOOSE TO BE.
Get Educated: Seek out a professional trained in addiction recovery. Learn about the changes that have occurred in your child’s brain. Become knowledgeable about, and able to identify, behaviors you may have not seen yet from your child. Develop strategies on how to respond when they appear. BECOME A BETTER CHESS PLAYER BY LEARNING HIS/HER MOVES BEFORE THEY APPEAR.
Become Willing: Making very difficult decisions, ones that are counter intuitive to our Parental DNA, the DNA that tells us we need to protect our children from pain, becomes the order of the day. Beginning to accept that addicts begin to consider recovery when they hit their pain threshold is important. Allowing an addict to feel their pain is essential in this process…..NO ENABLING!
Learn what enabling means and what it looks like. Diana Clark says “the more we protect addiction the longer we allow an addict to engage in negative behaviors” Probably the most difficult period for me in my process of parenting an addicted son was the period prior to accepting that I was powerless over him, his addiction, his choices and actions. I utilized the strength of 12 steps groups (AA and Al anon), parent support groups and a well-known Family Healing Strategist, Diana Clark during this time and still do even though my son is 3.5 years sober. I became educated, which I believe to be the best advice I can offer any parent in this process.
My guess is that if your son was diagnosed with Diabetes or some other chronic, progressive and deadly disease you would make it your business to become educated on the daily responsibilities of care for that individual and be very willing to assist. You can be of assistance at once by making the commitment to working on yourself by establishing, communicating, and then consistently enforcing reasonable boundaries and expectations. “I will support you seeking treatment but will not support active addiction“ is reasonable.
Working on a relationship with a higher power helped me be ok with accepting that I am powerless. I continue to this day to strengthen my spirituality…knowing that if I am powerless I have to find a source of power to be OK. HP’s can come in many sizes and colors… maybe a group of parents struggling with the same issues can serve in that capacity for now! I do know that the more I looked at me, and do what was suggested by others, the better my son seemed. Truth of the matter was that he wasn’t getting better but I felt better about a very sad, stressful and frightening situation with some very dangerous potential outcomes. As I said earlier my son is 3.5 years sober and enjoying a purposeful, productive and healthy life that he describes as “beyond his wildest dreams “ This life that he has is one that I could not give him. It is one that he chose and shares with others on their journey to making healthy and safe change.
I frequently suggest to parents that they consider helping someone else’s child by talking a volunteer commitment in an activity of their interest or skill set. There is great value in helping others I believe…first and foremost being that when we are helping others we take time off for our fixation with our child and our worries. Last but not least family recovery is a parallel process I believe. The affected one needs to commit to a tried and tested program of drug treatment while all significant others begin to heal from their addiction to the addict by engaging in the activities outlined above. Always remember….doing this alone very rarely provides meaningful results.