Perhaps you’re already reading Al-Anon material, or going to a group. Maybe you have a sponsor or mentor. Both are helpful. From personal experience, I’ll share a few of the most crucial things I’ve learned here, having been in the trenches with two sons who became addicts after my husband passed away several years ago.
Serenity. Maintain your serenity. Your happiness does not depend on these circumstances, this person you love, or even their wellbeing. Your resiliency is your own, and it is life or death for you to find it and guard it like the only safe home in a town during war. Many times I thought I couldn’t do it. For a long time, I didn’t do it well. But I got out of bed putting my feet on the floor in gratitude most mornings, prayed, read recovery books, meditated, did individual, family and group therapy, talked with my friends in recovery. I never gave up on my sons, and I never quit believing that my own peace and happiness were essential to my life and work on this planet. Not because of selfishness, or even preference. But because I am committed to living a life with contentment. It is a choice I made, and I choice I make over and over again each day. I told myself, “When I want to work on them, create serenity in myself instead.”
Detachment. Detachment is a daring, courageous type of love. When I first read about detachment, I thought, “That’s for other people. I don’t need to do that. We can stay close and they can still get better.” But I was wrong. Detaching with love is actually what gives your addict the foundation they need to finally know they must choose sobriety. My sons’ adult lives are ultimately none of my business. I raised them to be my guests, to be kind, work hard, play hard, have integrity, explore, learn, love well, to give back. There has always been closeness, fun, a strong parent-child bond. Yet how they move forward now that they are post-18 is up to them. I am here to love them unconditionally, and believe in them. Our separateness actually supports our connectedness. The more I see them as successful individuals, the more they can experience that energy from me. How I think about them as young adults, and how I view my ongoing role as parent-friend, is the foundation of how I’ll treat them, and how they will see themselves. When I move back in and start clinging to outcomes or to fears, I become anxious, frenetic, adrenals fire, and I do stupid things like overmanage them or bother others. Yet when I can stay in a place of loving detachment, hopeful yet not stuck on a particular outcome, life flows and I create equanimity: calmness and composure, even in a difficult situation.
Overcoming Fear: When I’m afraid, I allow it. I accept my fears and wrap my loving arms around them. I offer myself deep compassion. There’s a lot to be afraid of, in the dark unknown. But I don’t stay there. I let my fears move through me like the breeze, and I work on myself. I work on me so regularly that I’ve started trusting myself, my own good judgment, and my capacity to be strong. I am stronger than I ever knew I could be now, and know I can take on just about anything, because I have. My husband’s death, sons who became addicts, and guardian to my 92 year old mother with dementia. Life is a train that we are on, like it or not, and the cities in which it stops may not be to our liking. So I jokingly tell myself, “I wanted to visit this town!” Ie., I pretend I chose this life, these struggles, and am more at peace with whatever happens. Fear sits in my compartment with me. I don’t know where this train is going next. I don’t fight the food that gets put on my plate, I say, “Well, I guess we’re having liverwurst and dandelions for dinner.” At least there’s something to eat, and a view out the window’ at least I still have the privilege of living, of being on the train.
Non-management. There’s a fine line between exerting effort to help and managing our loved ones, and I got in my sons’ way to do their own work when I attempted to manage them. It has been most revolutionary to show confidence in them that I know they are finding their own paths, that their successes and mistakes are their own, and they are learning from them. I remind myself all the time that I don’t want to change them. I want them to change themselves, so get the heck out of their way.
Allowing doubt: most days, when doubt in myself plagues me, non-attachment saves me. I have to do what I can with the wisdom I’ve got, then let go of the outcomes. If after purposeful pondering and consultation I make a mistake, I make a mistake. There is always a yin to the yang, two sides to the same coin. If I exert full effort, surrendering at the same time, doubt fades. When I’m able to stand in my strength while at the same time accept vulnerability, doubt transforms into trust- that things will be and are exactly as they’re meant to be. As tough as they are. Who am I to say what lessons are best, how low of a rock bottom someone I love dearly has to hit? Not my business, not within my power or control. Comfortable with uncertainty.
Contentment: I try to guard contentment with my life, like a goalie protecting the goal in the World Cup. My team members are friends, mentors, and my own personal work, such as using a mindfulness tool I teach clients: B-O-A-R (B= breathe, O=observe my experience, A=allow my feelings, and R=reframe, respond without reacting, recommit, etc.). Supportive practices like 2 minute meditations (shamita vipassana, candle meditation, etc.), prayers of gratitude and release, and reading help. My stack of go-to books in recovery are listed below; discover your own. Have regular phone calls with good friends who are also in recovery, whose young adult children are also managing addictions. My happy husband keeps me laughing, and I’m trying to keep my sparkle by being fun myself.
Mantras: Repeating phrases to yourself frequently can be calming. Addiction feels heavy. So, being your own coach, try saying things like “I live in the unknown with calm,” and “We’ll figure this out.” “Stand in my strength.” “Calm and content.” “Let go.” “Passion for love and life.” “Brave enough to change.” “Take this tiny step.” “I can do this.” “Parents don’t have the luxury of despair” (Cheryl Strayed). “There’s power in this now” (Eckhart Tolle). “Dare greatly” (Brene Brown). “There’s big magic somewhere in this” (Elizabeth Gilbert). “I experience the lightness that comes from freedom from my own ideas” (Rolf Gates). These people I quote are my other coaches, and I see them on my team as well.
Friends and Self-Care: I would not be able to think straight without my dear friends, laughing with them, and listening to good playlists while I worked out.
God and the Universe. I daily commit and recommit to learning whatever I have to learn in this life. No matter what it takes, I want to be a good parent. I want to know God deeply, to be kind, love well and make the world a better place on my watch. If I am a tiny little light, at least that’s something. Placing faith in what I call the Beloved, and in this amazingly mysterious universe, wiser than what we could create or desire, helps me to relax in peace, and live with hope and more contentment. There is so much pain and suffering in this world, but the way out of the added suffering we create for ourselves is between our ears. Thoughts alter feelings, and lead to our actions. Yet in our unpredictable world, surrendering to it and to a higher power is an act of assertive bravery.
-Pamela W. Brinker, LCSW
These were my go-to-books. The list is involved because I never expected this, didn’t understand that addiction and recovery involved inherent relapses, and I was a plodding learner. But an educational consultant told me a few years ago, that he’d love it when I could come up with what to do from within. I’m working on that, better now with the practices I shared with you above.
References: Brad Reedy, PhD: The Journey of the Heroic Parent: Your Child’s Struggle and the Road Home; Courage to Change, and One Day at a Time in Al-Anon; Krissy Pozatek, LICSW: The Parallel Process: Growing Alongside Your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment; Beverly Conyers, MA: Everything Changes: Help for Families of Newly Recovering Addicts; Rolf Gates: Meditations from the Mat; Lee Jampolsky, MD: Healing the Addictive Personality: Freeing Yourself from Addictive Patterns and Relationships; Melody Beattie: Codependent No More; Abraham Twerski, MD: Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception; Allen Berger, PhD: 12 Stupid Things That Mess Up Recovery; Jane Bluestein, PhD: Parents, Teens and Boundaries: How to Draw the Line; Tim Thayne, PhD: Not by Chance: How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and After Treatment; Fay and Billings: From Innocence to Entitlement: A Love and Logic Cure for the Tragedy of Entitlement; Jen Sincero: You Are A Badass; Michael Singer: The Untethered Soul, Be Happy, and Mary Oliver poetry.