The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage. ~ Thucydides
Do you feel entrapped by addiction?
Do you feel that your life is no longer your own because of your child’s substance use?
Fourth of July is this week. It is that beloved reminder about our personal freedom and independence.
We live in a country that is free, because of the courage of many. Some, however, may not feel so personally free this year.
Instead, they are entangled in the web of substance use and addiction. Their life may feel like it is spiraling out of control.
When faced with your child’s drug or alcohol use, it is easy to become fixated on trying to help. Most parents feel driven to do whatever it takes to solve the problem. It can become all-consuming.
When I had to face the drug and alcohol use in my family, I felt I had lost the power to decide and could only react to what was in front of me. I had lost my inner peace through lack of sleep, endless worry and fear. I knew I didn’t have the answers to this big problem.
My life had spiraled out of control and I did not feel free.
I am grateful to say that my daughter is in long-term recovery, but neither of us will ever forget those days when we were both struggling.
Here are her thoughts about freedom and the 4th of July:
When I think of the 4th of July, I immediately picture BBQ grills, fireworks and the American flag.
It’s a fun day meant to be spent with family and friends and meant to celebrate our country’s independence.
This holiday also makes me think about personal independence, or lack thereof.
When suffering from an addiction, whether you realize it or not, you have completely lost your independence.
For an alcoholic or addict, in the beginning days of drinking and drug use, you actually feel completely in control.
You are the one making the choices about how much to use or take, how much money to spend on your drug, and what you will do in order to get it. After a little bit of time (whether a few weeks, or a few days) that sense of control will be gone and you will become completely enslaved to your addiction.
Alcoholism and addiction take charge of your life and you end up just along for the ride. On a daily basis it is true that you make your own choices, whether in the midst of an addiction or not.
You decide whether or not to spend your last $20 on food or booze. You decide whether you are going to make it to that important family gathering on-time, or at all.
These choices may be easy for most people, but for the addict and alcoholic, every decision is controlled by the need for the next high.
I can say from experience that being dependent on drugs and alcohol is lonely, sad and a shameful way to live.
There is a part of you that does want to be sober, a good family member, successful and happy.
And often times you do know what you need to do, you may just not be willing yet.
It is not easy to overcome an addiction, but to live without independence, is no way to live.
Living with independence is a hard-won right that we are all privileged to have. Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many families that feel that they are being held captive by the substance use of their child. Their life revolves around the drama and the chaos and their life as they once knew it, is gone.
As a parent, we have the power to make choices for ourselves that can make a difference for everyone involved. There are never any guarantees and everyone’s situation is different, but some of these ideas may help your particular situation, so that you feel more in control of your personal freedom and your life.
Choose to stay afloat, rather than go “down with the ship”. When our kids are spinning out of control, we can either spin with them, or we can be the anchor that keeps everyone grounded. When we are in control, it helps keep things as calm as possible, so that we are in a place where better decisions can be made. One of the ways we can be the anchor is by doing everything we can to take care of ourselves during this stressful time. Being a source of strength is essential when dealing with substance use.
Communicate in the most positive way as possible with your kids no matter what their situation. Positive communication is essential when talking with your child, no matter how frustrated or angry you feel. I just saw an interesting video today by Luke Benoit, who is a life coach. He was the teacher of a recent class I just took. He mentions visualizing yourself throwing down a giant bubble around you when you are talking with someone you are concerned about. The idea is to protect yourself from hurtful words and to give you virtual space so that you have thinking time to communicate in a calm, positive manner. The conversation has a better chance of being helpful, rather than continuing in a negative cycle. This is also a good time to remember to not take anything personally.
With courage you can choose to face the truth of your situation. I know I was in denial for years with my daughter’s drug use. It did not serve her or myself well. Being in denial just prolongs the agony of substance use and may prevent your child from making positive change. It could add years to the problem. While sometimes it may feel easier to just stay comfortably in denial, when you make the choice to face the truth of your situation, solutions and ideas start to take hold. You cannot solve a problem, unless you face it.
Choose to understand what our child is going through. While anger and fear may be our first reactions to a situation that seems out of control, when you stop to take a breath and think through why your child may have chosen to use drugs or alcohol, things begin to be more clear. You will have more understanding about why your child felt the need to use substances to ease their pain, your role in the situation and what you can do to help them find a better way.
Knowledge is power. Read and educate yourself about drug and alcohol abuse. There are a number of books on the topic of addiction as well as websites and online videos. Some contain information about the facts of addiction, while others share personal experiences. Many are worth reading. Educate yourself about the disease of addiction so that you can make informed decisions that will promote positive change. My new ebook is just out. It has 28 interviews with people who have experienced substance use and have knowledge to share, which you might find helpful. You can check it out here.
Set boundaries for yourself and for your other family members. Recently, I’ve noticed a number of my clients have struggled with setting acceptable boundaries for their child. Each situation is different, so thinking about what will be the most helpful for you and your family is important. Do things that will support your child’s long-term recovery. You’ll feel much more in control of your life when you have clarity about your boundaries and can communicate them effectively. When our children are in pain, it can feel very “unparentlike” to not do whatever you can to solve your child’s problem for them. Allow your kids to take responsibility. Be helpful and supportive, but don’t shield them from their actions.
Choose to not isolate and reach out for support. There is nothing better to help ease the stigma and feeling of being alone, than to connect with someone who is either a professional in the field or has experienced a similar situation. We can learn from others who have gone before us or who have studied substance use. When we connect with each other and have empathy and compassion, it helps us feel better and less isolated. Talking with someone who is truly hearing and supporting you, is often the beginning of change.
Choose to stay focused on the solution. Your immediate thought might be that you cannot solve your child’s addiction problem alone. The solution for now may be that you start by getting yourself healthy, mentally and physically. When you take care of yourself, you become a role model for a healthy lifestyle. It can have a trickle down effect. Acknowledge and support your child’s positive change towards recovery as often as possible.
Choose to forgive. There are many things your children may have done during their drug or alcohol use that may feel unforgivable. They may have lied, stolen, wrecked the car, or been abusive. The list can go on and on. When we forgive, we get back our power that we have given away. It’s now ours to keep. We can use this power of forgiveness to give ourselves the freedom to move on.
Celebrate this 4th of July by knowing that you can live with personal freedom and that you can have the life that you deserve. Hope and healing are possible for everyone.
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