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Teaching My Daughters to Think and Feel for Themselves
Monday, May 13th, 2013

The other day a friend said to me, “It seems as if all the people I knew in high school who used drugs were the ones who had trouble coping with their feelings.”

As a person in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, I agree with her observation.

I had a great amount of anxiety as a child and as a teenager. My parents were often angry at each other. We frequently ate dinner in silence and, although we didn’t acknowledge it, the tension was high. I didn’t understand how to sort out my anxiety and my feelings became too much to bear. Just thinking about it 25 years later (14 in recovery) brings knots to my stomach.

I didn’t want to be at home with my family. As a result I started going out every night at an early age, even on weeknights, just to get away.

At 14 years old, when I had my first drink, the anxiety went away — albeit temporarily — and I thought I had finally found the answer to my problem. After that, all I wanted to do was drink again.

Now, with children of my own and being in recovery and knowing what I know about drugs and alcohol, I think a lot about the concept of coping.

I often see parents using distraction as a method to calm down their children. But what are we really telling our kids if each time they are upset about something we say, “Oh, let’s go over here, and let’s look at this really fun book!” Or “Here let’s see what’s in the fridge?” This method prevents children from learning how to experience emotions appropriately. We’re setting them up for a lifetime of bottled-up emotions; we’re teaching them to cover up their feelings, rather than to express themselves. My mother’s idea of comforting herself was through shopping and sweets. Naturally, my brother and I picked up similar habits. And believe me, I thoroughly enjoyed the shopping, chocolate and Coca-Cola.

I didn’t have a safe place to express myself and never learned how to process feelings. When I felt bad and anxious it was so painful and so overwhelming.

In early recovery when I no longer had drugs and alcohol to cover my feelings,  it was very difficult to deal with my feelings of sadness and despair. I became very depressed; I would cry endlessly. I didn’t have the ability to get passed my pain and release my emotions.

With the help of the 12 steps, therapy and meditation I have learned how to cope better. Today, when I get sad about something, my reaction is appropriate to the situation at hand.

Nevertheless, parents today never want to see their children sad. We fear that they won’t be able to handle adversity. I fall into that trap even though I consider myself to be a pretty conscious mother. Recently, my 4 year old had a playdate with a young girl who subsequently made her cry twice in the little time she was at our house. My instinct was to ban the girl from our home, and I hoped that my daughter would never want to play with her again at school. I was adamant about it. I didn’t want anyone to hurt my little girl.

But then I thought, “Wait a minute, is this the right way to go?”

I recently watched a video called the Opiate Effect. It is a short film about the Oxycodone problem in Vermont. In the film, Dr. Bob Bick (Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services at the Howard Center) says, “If we encourage young people to think, to THINK and FEEL from the earliest age as opposed to believing that we can think for them or feel for them, we will be in a much better position…for young people to make decisions which ultimately will affect the rest of their lives.”

Thinking and feeling for myself was something I did not know how to do until several years into my recovery. Thinking, but foremost FEELING for themselves is something I deeply would like my children to learn. And if I just step out of the way, not necessarily interfering but instead simply giving them gentle guidance along the way, I’m hoping it will be achieved.

So, I’m taking a different approach. If my daughter is angry or sad, I ask her what is going on and try to get her to talk about it. Sometimes I’ll just hold her without saying anything and let her cry until she is done. I never try to distract her with TV, food or shopping like I see so many others do, and like my own parents did.

To me it is clear that teenagers who have learned to cover up their feelings with video games or shopping or food will more easily say yes when someone offers them a joint at a party. And if they are predisposed, and have a lot of unresolved or pent-up emotions and the joint offers them relief, then they will likely want to do it again. And then who knows what will happen.

As they say, I am trying to just take it one step at a time and one day at a time encourage my two little girls to figure out life, thinking and feeling on their own, and hopefully it will make a difference.   Of course, I am just a parent in recovery. I am not an expert nor a PhD, and these are just my observations.

I would really like to hear from parents who have had or currently have children who are suffering from drug and alcohol abuse issues and hear what they have to say on this topic. Does any of this matter? Please comment below and let me know what you did or didn’t do.



Posted by Pernilla Burke  /  Filed under Addiction, Coping, Enabling, Family History, parenting, Recovery, Self-reflection, Substance Abuse, Writing About Addiction  /  Comments: more

Detaching With Love: How I Learned to Separate My Son and His Addiction
Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

My son Alex shoplifted to support his addiction. Needless to say he got caught several times. The first few times, when he was a minor, we’d get a call to come pick him up, and he’d get a ticket, and we’d pay a big fine and take him to court services for his probation and take him to a psychologist. This went on for a couple years.

When he turned 18, he was no longer a minor, and with his record they’d take him to jail. He’d make that phone call from jail, “Please come and bail me out. I’m never going to do this again.” Off we’d go. After a while, this was getting expensive. And my wife Darlene and I were not learning our lesson—and, by the way, neither was our son. We were doing the same thing over and over, and our son was doing the same thing over and over. Nothing was changing. He’d make the same promises, we’d take the same action, and we couldn’t understand why he kept using!

This is where the idea of “detaching” and setting boundaries started with us. We decided we weren’t going to pay bail next time.

But it wasn’t easy. As a mom and dad it is very hard to think of your child sitting in jail. In Jackson County, MO, jail he witnessed a person getting stabbed. The food is universally bad at jails, and without money on your books, you can’t even get a toothbrush to brush your teeth. He had food stolen from him and at times had to fight to keep it. He spent two days in solitary confinement for defending himself against an inmate who attacked him. Some jails put the mentally ill in with criminals such as rapists and murderers, and then put them all in together with the drug addicts. It makes no sense to me.

It’s hard to think of yourself as a loving parent when you know that for just a few hundred dollars you could get your child out of those situations. You wonder: if I don’t pay the bail, am I really a loving parent? But eventually, the day comes when you don’t pay. We once let our son sit in the “Johnson County, KS, Resort” for 11 days because we wouldn’t post a $50 bond. Sounds mean doesn’t it?

This is about detaching with love and not enabling. Your boundaries must match your values. It works for us this way. Overriding all is the value that we love our son. When you sit down to think about and discuss boundaries, this goes at the top of the page. Every single boundary is tested against that value.

Another value we hold close and taught our kids is that stealing is wrong. Stealing carries consequences, and it should. Bailing him out removes or minimizes the consequences. Contrary to our values, we were bailing him out. We hated what he was exposed to in jail; however, we had established a pattern: he got caught, he called, we jumped with cash in hand.

Darlene and I sat down and determined where we would go and where we would no longer go. This began to help us establish our boundaries. You can’t cover all of the possible situations; you just cover what you can and know that once you learn how to judge behaviors and fight the instinct to enable by rescuing, the exercise becomes easier and more natural.

Once boundaries are determined, you must sit down with your child, an addict that may or may not be high at the time, and explain where you will no longer go with him. In fact you can even start each sentence with, “Because we love you…” and then, for instance, “we can no longer bail you out of jail. All of your life we taught you that stealing was wrong and you know that in your heart, so we cannot support your actions by bailing you out of jail when you do something you have been taught all your life is wrong. I hope you understand this and can accept our decision.”

For each boundary we had discussed, the conversation went like that. Our son hated it when we turned off the TV and asked him to sit down at the table to talk. This satisfied our need to tell him of our expectations, and it told him what to expect from us. Yes, he still called, begged, pleaded and cried from jail, but what we had been doing in the past didn’t work and was bad for us and him. We had to change the rules, but that didn’t mean we loved him less. It meant we loved him more because it hurt us terribly to let him sit in jail.

Even with his begging and pleading we were still able to sleep at night and have a moment of down time. He was in jail and we knew jail was safer than being on the street scoring and shooting more heroin. We then began to see jail as “protective custody.”

We detached from Alex’s crimes and actions; we did not detach from him. We still loved him, took some of the $10-for-10-minute collect calls from jail. On those calls we always ended by saying that we loved him and asking him to please help himself. We were doing all we could and all we knew to do. Detach from the actions, crimes, drug use, lying and every other terrible thing a drug addict does to himself and others. Love and support the person inside, not the addiction controlling the life.

Today, Alex is two-and-a-half years sober.

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Codependency, Confronting Teens, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Family members, parenting, Patience, Substance Abuse, tough love, Uncategorized  /  Comments: more

The Language of Drug Addiction is Often Negative
Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Tough LoveThe language of drug addiction is laced with many terms that seem to be designed to scare everyone. Many words and descriptors of addiction make me cringe “Hitting rock bottom,” is a term I have written about before. Another term that I have recently been exploring and considering is “Tough Love.”

Tough Love is harsh. For a parent to do what is necessary isn’t “tough love” it is REAL LOVE. Real love is letting your child sit in jail (protective custody) when for only a few dollars you could get him out and spare him from the confines of jail. (Only to find them using again within two hours.) Real love is telling your child he cannot live in your home as he continue to use drugs. Real love is when you see your addict hungry, dirty and homeless, and you buy him a meal, give him information of people who can help and encourage him to seek help and not offering to “fix it” for him. Real love is selfishly taking the time to work on yourself so that when your addict has a “profound experience” you ARE able to help in the right way instead of just falling back on old habits of enabling.

Addiction is a disease. When we see a parent sitting bedside of a child with cancer taking chemotherapy, holding his hand, wiping his head, combing his hair as is falls out, holding the pan as he gets sick, we admire that parent and comment how much they must love their child to be by his side. That parent doesn’t love their child any more than you or I. That parent is only doing what they can and must to help their child get better; just like we are doing when we practice tough love real love.

Real Love is why you are here reading these essays written by parents and professionals who have walked this path before you.

Tough love is easy, throw them out and leave them to the world.

What words in the world of addiction make you angry? Share with us below.

Related Links
Moving Away From Enabling
How a Child’s Own Reasons for Change Lead to the Most Success
Losing Your Mind Doesn’t Help Anyone

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, parenting, Taking Care of Yourself, Uncategorized  /  Comments: more

Part I: Forgiveness: My Struggles to Make Amends with Myself and My Addict
Thursday, September 29th, 2011

ForgivenessDealing with the aftermath of my stepfather’s drunken escapades in my childhood became as common as getting out of bed in the morning. My family thought it was “normal” to scream at each other, to throw dishes across the room, and to pretend it didn’t hurt when these type of things happened. My mother seemed as if she had forgiven my stepfather’s behavior every single day only to have it occur again the very same day. My middle brother was a drug addict at this time also. He would bully my grandmother into giving him every last dime of her life savings, would rob our home — the home he lived in — and scream at all of us when we refused to let him in the house. He even stole from my piggy bank when I was 10-years-old.  Addicts have one purpose — to get more drugs, period. In this case too, my mother seemed to want to forget and continue to enable him.   It was an endless cycle.

When you are a small child growing up in a home plagued with addiction you get a very distorted picture of what it means to forgive. We do whatever is necessary to survive the emotional rollercoaster we are on, while resentment builds inside of us. When we are old enough to understand the addiction we just want to forget everything that ever happened. It would be great if I could wave a magic wand and erase all those terrible memories. But I have had to live with them.

They have altered my ability to trust, to believe in others, to feel worthy of love, and to forgive. I was so angry at the people I should have loved the most. I hated my stepfather for his embarrassing and painful displays of drunkenness. I hated my brother for being so weak and conniving. I hated my mother for not being strong enough to protect me from them. As an adult, I was isolated and angry. I ran away from my family because I wanted to be the complete opposite of them. I wanted to attract good.

Let me tell you that you can run to the ends of the earth and it will never be far enough to avoid yourself. The only true way to heal from your loved one’s addiction is to forgive — forgive the person, forgive those affected by the person, but most of all you have to forgive yourself. It took me over thirty-five years to truly begin forgiving. Sure I had said hundreds of times before that I was over all of the negativity, but I hadn’t really learned how.

Have you forgiven yourself and your loved one with a drug addiction?  Share your story of forgiveness below.

Read Part II of my blog post next week to learn to how I forgave myself and those around me.

Related Links:
Acceptance: Regaining Trust and Rebuilding the Family Unit
Dealing with Feelings: 5 Ways I Cope with My Young Adult’s Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Moving Away From Enabling
Time to Get Help

Posted by Michelle A. Woycitzky  /  Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Alcohol, Enabling, Family History, Forgiveness  /  Comments: more

Rescuing Your Child Addict
Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

A wise man once told me that if I spent my life making only new mistakes, my life was truly a life of learning.  I wasted a lot of time with my addict repeating mistakes that I had already made. Most of the time it was the result of being stuck in “rescue mode” – instead of finding alternative methods.  At the time, I didn’t recognize rescue mode as a method of parenting or a result of living with an addicted child.

Rescue mode is when you continuously work on things that will not accomplish anything. With most of us, this does not just apply to our addict; it applies to our own lives as well.

Operating in rescue mode means you will react to every emotion, crisis and incident of drama in both your life and your addict’s life. Rescue mode will consume you and every ounce of your energy. It’s also self-perpetuating. The more rescuing you do, the more you will find to rescue.

Think of all the people that make it their life’s mission and job to rescue: Firefighters, police officers, military specialists, lifeguards.  Not a single one of them attempts to rescue anyone without first understanding their boundaries.  Without clear boundaries, rescuers become those who need rescuing, too. This applies to parents of addicts as well.

It’s very complicated thing when you love your child with all your heart but you hate what they have become and what is happening to them right in front of your eyes. The first step to your survival and moving beyond rescue mode is to recognize that you are failing to detach with love

Detaching with love means understanding and buying into your own personal values and how they relate to the behavior you exhibit to your addict. This requires you to create the quiet time to really analyze what you believe about addiction and your child.  It may also require you to seek outside counsel from friends, counselors and other groups. However, even with all of the help, this is still a deeply personal task.

To detach with love requires a bit of selfish behavior. It also requires good boundaries. If you do not take the time to set good boundaries and understand exactly how your boundaries match your core values, you will never escape rescue mode.
Detaching with love doesn’t mean to stop loving or believing in your child. Nor does it mean walking away or washing your hands of the whole situation.

Detaching with love is difficult, but necessary if you wish to rescue your child. This is something  I struggle with daily, but it’s something that’s good for me and good for my son. If, as a parent, you want to do what’s best for your child — no matter how old he or she is and how much he or she may be struggling– you will work on this every day.

Wasted efforts and wasted time is the effort and time in which you learn nothing and in which you do not change yourself. It is a simple answer that becomes more complex with application. As with most things, the role these tips will play in the rescuing of your child will vary based on the family, the addict and the circumstances.

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Taking Care of Yourself  /  Comments: more

Moving Away From Enabling
Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

The best thing you can do for yourself or any addict you care about is to not enable their drug addiction. Parents can fail in this regard when they are unable to accept a family member’s addiction as a serious problem. With the best of intentions, parents can unknowingly support their teen’s drug use by enabling. As sad as it is for parents to see this; it is equally an enigma to an addict as they find that their mental condition progressively responds only to their cravings. It’s important to do everything you can to stop feeding the lifeline to addiction – it can really save lives.

Too often, young addicts steal — and as a result many parents enable by not holding the young addict accountable for their actions. Often times the thought of jail, shame and the fear of loss paralyzes a family. Those who live with a drug addict and have endured many violations understand a level of madness that can’t be explained. It is a sobering thought to find that jail isn’t more dangerous than life on the streets for a young addict.  A parent’s instinct is to protect their child at all costs, but drug addiction doesn’t rationalize what a second or third chance means. This disease has a course of its own — unless interrupted by an intervention. For many diseases, intervention comes in the form of medicine and care. Cancer doesn’t ask permission to be brutal, neither does addiction.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Bill Ford  /  Filed under Addiction, Co-Occurring Disorders, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Recovery & Relapse  /  Comments: more

My Son’s Addiction: What Is vs. What Ought To Be
Monday, March 15th, 2010

Most of us live in two worlds: the world of what is and the world of ought to be. This is not an issue that only parents of addicts face — this is a reality of most everyone. For many, residing in two worlds at the same time causes great frustration and anger. There are some that fail to even recognize that there is a difference, they spend their lives trying to mold their existing reality into a life of what ought to be.

The problem as a parent of an addict is living in the world of ought to be disrupts your perspective to what is happening with your son or daughter that is an addict. The world of ought to be continually puts us in a place where it is impossible to help our addict. It causes frustration and anger with the addict, the world and ourselves. Ought to be causes us to lose our grasp on the reality of our situation. We are the parents of an addict; this is the reality we cannot avoid. All of the what ifs, and should haves mean nothing when you are trying to help a child who is addicted.

An addict lives their life in the world of what is minute to minute. The pain of addiction, the worry of getting their next fix, a life without purpose, this is the world of reality for an addict – the world of what is.

As parents of an addict, living in the world of ought to be gives us permission to do things that hurt our addict and perpetuate their addiction. Ought to be allows us to enable our addict. Ought to be allows us to excuse our addict’s behavior. Ought to be distorts our thinking and our reality. Inside my child is a good kid they just have this addiction problem, so we ought to be treating them as a good kid and everything will work its way through. If we do that then they ought to see the problem and they will stop. I have fallen into that trap so many times.

Living in the world of what is forces me to see the situation as it is and not the way I wish it to be. When I am living in the world of what is I am an effective helper for my addict. Recognizing the truths of what is helps me to stop enabling and forces me to deal not just with my son as I want him to be, but to recognize what truly is the reality of my addicted child’s life. Without that perspective, I cannot relate to my addict’s pain and I cannot help myself.

Posted by Ron Grover  /  Filed under Addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Denial, Enabling, Taking Care of Yourself  /  Comments: more

Alanon Helped Me Deal with My Addicted Child
Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

I have a daughter. She is the second of our four children and she is beautiful. I can remember back 21 years ago to the day of her arrival onto this earth, into our family, and it is one of my most precious memories. Her birth was fun, filled with joy and we were surrounded by people who love us. As the doctor guided her out into this world and held her slick shiny body up for me to see, I felt such happiness, such pure unadulterated joy that I had been given a girl child.

At 12 years old that same beautiful girl child took her first drink of alcohol. Little did she know that she had opened a door to years of drama and turmoil, years of ruined relationships, loneliness, and feelings of defeat. Years of being in pain. By the time she was 14 that beautiful girl child of mine had become a black-out drinking drug user.

We rationalized that she was experimenting. Lots of kids go through wild phases, but deep inside I think we knew that this was more than that. We were afraid and ashamed and in denial…not a good combination. We worked so hard at controlling and managing what had so obviously already spun out of our grasp. We didn’t want anyone to know the depths of our fear. We hoped and prayed it would pass. But it didn’t.

We sought counseling and thankfully we were directed to Alanon Family Groups. Alanon is a 12 step program for the families and friends of alcoholics and/or addicts. Little did I know I was about to be given a road map that would lead me back to sanity. Because I had most certainly resorted to crazy behavior all in the name of saving my daughter.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Annette  /  Filed under Dealing with an Addicted Child, Denial, Enabling, Family History, Recovery & Relapse, Taking Care of Yourself  /  Comments: more

The Second Parental Deadly Sin – Enabling
Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Enabling means to make able or possible, to give power.  It is a major environmental factor in addiction. Enabling allows the addict to continue in his disease by preventing him from experiencing the negative consequences of his behavior.  Giving in to my daughter Lauren, who had a spiraling addiction, was a recipe for disaster. It mortifies me to think about how I handed out money and gave her rides to be with her drug-dealing boyfriend during her using days. I think the scariest thing about enabling is that most parents don’t even realize they’re doing it — and that was certainly true for me.  I believe my enabling was just another way for me to protect myself while being fed by the lies and deception that Lauren used to hide her using. 

Facing the truth was too hard and I wanted to be able to trust my daughter and give her the freedom that any typical teenager should have.  The problem was that what we were dealing with was anything but “typical.”  

Many times I hear parents say, “But I want my kid to like me.” Dealing with a rebellious teenager is tough enough for most parents; add to that a growing addiction and you are faced with something beyond your control.  Coming from an alcoholic upbringing myself, I struggled at times with codependent tendencies, including weak boundaries and difficulty asserting myself with my kids.  Living with an active addiction in my teen triggered those inclinations.  I was an easy target as my daughter developed into a master manipulator in her quest to acquire the drugs she needed to fuel her addiction. 

Lauren needed professional help for her addiction and I needed help just as badly for my enabling ways around her disease.  One addiction counselor told me that my daughter was not ready to change because she liked her life.  What I didn’t realize was how much I was responsible for providing the comfortable environment in which her disease was thriving.  Once I implemented some “Tough Love” principles and set boundaries with money and rides, and mandated a recovery program for her if she wanted to live in my home, it rocked her world and things started to change.

Many teen substance abusers are able to reach a point where they want to recover because they cannot stand to lose any more of their former privileges. Only when addicted teens are faced with real consequences can they start to make a change.  There is help for parents available in the form of free meetings with other families who are dealing with family addiction. The purpose of these groups is to learn from one another how to stop being codependent and how to end enabling behavior.

Five ways to stop enabling behavior:

1) Attend meetings for families of addicts.
2) Get professional help for yourself.
3) Establish “Tough Love” consequences in your home.
4) Stop providing money and privileges for your substance abuser.
5) Develop a support system with other parents of addicts.

Posted by Karen Franklin  /  Filed under Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Family History, Recovery, Taking Care of Yourself  /  Comments: more

Acceptance: Regaining Trust and Rebuilding the Family Unit
Thursday, October 8th, 2009

With our emotional wound still open, our entire family, including my stepdaughter Katherine, began the process of building back the trust we once shared.  This would prove to be rewarding as well as exceptionally painful. 

Sitting, circular fashion in a room with at least 10 other families we openly disclosed our feelings of anger, fear, loneliness, distrust as well as resentment.  “Family Week” had begun and there would be no holding back as we were guided through various discussions with our loved ones.  The building blocks to fostering a new cohesive, trusting and loving family were being tossed around the room while we slowly, and painstakingly, examined the cracks that were created, their affects and how to seal them and move on.

The dynamics within the family are key to opening the doors to change.  When an addiction is present the need it is vital to focus on new ways of coping and “non-enabling” behaviors.  Both patients and family members often rationalize behaviors which creates an environment that hangs around like a thick fog — perpetuating feelings of inadequacies and creating the dysfunctional cycle that is extremely hard to break.

There were at least four general areas of focus that our family concentrated on, which I elaborate on below.  Keep in mind, that although I went through the recovery process with my stepdaughter, I am not a certified authority; I was just a family member trying to recapture and rebuild what was lost.  Every family’s issues will be different, yet similar in many ways.  Issues will surface and may compound as you work on restructuring your family -– it’s not easy.  But having experts, who allowed us to express our emotions and feelings in a controlled, safe and healthy environment, was incredibly instrumental.


It almost goes without saying that when an addiction is present, family members will find the blame game is alive and well.  We had elements of blaming ourselves as parents and role models, believing that the reason Katherine defied everything we believed in was an attempt to “get back” at us for our wrongdoings. 

At Family Week we opened up the floodgates, allowing ourselves to examine with minute detail (on both sides) where our thinking had been

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Linda Quirk  /  Filed under Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Family History, Family Therapy, Recovery, Treatment  /  Comments: more


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