Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Listen … T H I N K … WAIT

"If you hear the song I sing, you will understand … listen." - Get Together - Jesse Colin Young

It is a cold winter's day and once again my daily readings are chasing, no, stalking me with a common theme. An event I attended last evening also touched upon the same theme I evidently needed to hear. The universe was conspiring again. The theme - Listening.

Our traditional roles as parents are drummed into us by our parents, by television and other media and society. These roles are to offer solutions and guidance to fix whatever is "wrong", to mold our children to societal behaviors, and to console.

In many cases, especially with children at risk of being drawn to addiction we find these traditional roles do not work, not by a long shot. The parent's traditional role of the consoler, though noble, can cause us to ignore the truth. Too often, consolers become enablers. When we become enablers we turn blind eyes and deaf ears to the addiction and simultaneously throw everything we can into saving, fixing and curing the addicted.

How crazy is that? I can say this because I've been there. Many of us have. We couldn't see the insanity of our actions. It is a case of the blind (children) leading the fully sighted (parents) who simply refuse to see.

A true tool of parenting lost in our current culture is the art of listening.

One of the readings asks, "Did we talk too much, too loudly and hysterically when we should have kept silent?" I know my wife has told me on numerous occasions that the times when she has felt closest to me are those when I have simply listened and not offered comments or fixes.

It can be years until we apply these types of lessons to our children. These become lost years.

We can instead, today, now, commit to the THINK principal when responding to crises our addicted children bring our way: Is it Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent (or Insightful), Necessary, and Kind? Our commitment must be total. We must trust in the process, even if the results are not immediate. By thinking things through we can WAIT (translation … Why Am I Talking), listen and be sounding boards to our children.

When we relapse (and we will) and apply traditional parenting methods we may begin to notice something to which we were previously blind. Our families will shut down and go away - any conversation, over. The pain we inflict on our families may become painfully evident. This is a sign of growth, of self awareness. It is one of those painfully good experiences of recovery.

Think about how insulting it is when we go to a friend, co-worker or family member with an issue that has been on our minds and in the blink of an eye, with a few pithy truisms or strongly-worded "shoulds" the pain is supposed to be fixed, ameliorated or eliminated. And all we wanted was for someone to listen.

Add to this insult adolescent self doubt, equal measures of hormonal imbalance, peer pressure and anxiety, a pinch of anger and a child's CERTAINTY that you ARE a douche bag. No wonder our kids shut down with us or worse, go to other souls their age for counsel. This is a perfect recipe for our children who may be drawn to addiction to try a substance or activity in an attempt to find a solution. This is a perfect reason for our children in the abyss of addiction to remain exactly where they are. It is called self medication.

"Did we talk too much, too loudly and hysterically when we should have kept silent?"

The next time we feel compelled to solve, offer solutions, fix or cure, remember to THINK and WAIT. We may just be giving our sons or daughters the opportunity to figure things out for themselves.

It's called empowerment. It is our truest obligation to our children.

keep coming back 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal

It is March 20, 2014 and if you are reading this after 12:57 EDT (US), Mother Earth has progressed in her tilt toward the Sun to present the Northern Hemisphere with just a bit more of its fair share of the Sun's rays than its Southern half. Sorry my Argentine friends. It's our turn for a while. And its been a really long winter here.

Spring with all its potential, has Sprung!

I have a lot of plans for Spring. Our long Winter season has revealed some small chinks in the armor of our roof near the chimney, our pool may need a somewhat major overhaul and a portion of our cedar fence requires replacement. These are all acute maladies, each requiring a day or two of treatment to affect a cure.

I have also been putting off the treatment of a more chronic issue that has been begging for my attention for at least two years. My front and back lawns, once lush and fertile have through intermittent attention on my part, thinned like the scalp of a candidate for hair replacement. My front lawn is the worse of the two owing to the work of two evil chipmunks that have built a network of tunnels rivaling London's "Tube" and a not-so-great idea I stumbled upon a couple of seasons ago that if a little weed killer is good, a little more must be better.

All these hiccups to my exterior world order are minor, and fixable with a bit of know how, muscle and capital. This is what adults do. We identify areas of our lives that require our attention and we attend to these shortcomings. We fix what needs fixing. It is what society, our parents, literature, cinema and history have taught us.

It is Spring, and Hope springs eternal for my projects.

We all have our projects that require attention. Most are fixable, or not. It is through the guidance of the Universe that helps us to sort out which is, well, which.

At some point as parents of children who have succumbed to addiction we are confronted by a challenge that cannot be fixed, a project that cannot even be engaged, a battle that cannot be won. It goes against everything we have been taught to believe about our role as adults, as parents. This is what is so maddening about the first realizations of an addiction problem with our babies, our little boys, our little princesses.

Try as we may - and we will try -  there is no fix we can apply, no roof repair, no over seeding that will bring glory back from devastation. There is nothing we can do to pull our children out of their mire. This is what makes OUR recovery so difficult. The most effective behavior we can exhibit as parents of addicted children is to work on our recovery and at the same time love our children. It is, once again, a counterintuitive gift of the Universe, God, the Great Creator we are shown that through our recovery our children might just find their own way out, their own triumph out of and over addiction.

And as long as we know our children are living and breathing, there is Hope. We can let our children know in our own way that we love them. We can support them without enabling, even if it is only through a simple prayer in the morning. We can allow our children their victories and their consequences.

There is Hope for our kids. There is Hope for us.

And Hope Springs Eternal!

… keep coming back

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Six Haiku

We ignore the pain
Rainfall of their addiction
Is there hope for us

Parental struggles
Clouds may hide the sunny days
We must shine to see

Bright sunshiny day
Music lilting through speakers
Hopeful song for life

Adolescence is
Their own passage through darkness
We can be the light

God shows us the path
Life's journey made easier
Get out of the way

It's been a long one
Deep and dark winter lingers
Get ready for LIFE!

~ by Patrick Benjamin
…  keep coming back

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


"Anticipation, anticipation, is makin' me late, is keeping me waitin'" - Carly Simon

Yesterday where I live was a stunningly beautiful day with temperatures reaching 80. When this happens in mid-March in St. Louis it is often followed by tumult. Summertime weather this time of year is simply a case of Mother nature messin' with us.

Like clockwork the clouds began rolling in late in the afternoon ushering in a cold front from the Northwest and a forty-degree drop in temperature. That evening, the weathercasters predicted rain, then snow, and a rain/snow/sleet mix with 50 mile per hour wind gusts. To ensure viewership for the remainder of the evening, locusts and frogs falling from the sky were also forecast.

We were anticipating the worst in St. Louis. At the very least I feared my little section of cedar fence due for repair this Spring would be obliterated by the sleet, the wind, locusts and frogs.

Earlier this morning the wind was howling and a companion light rain was being blown about in spurts, but nothing like what we had been convinced would be our fate this day.

As I am writing this and look out our living room window, the Sun is shining upon the neighbors front door across the street. The winds are calm. It is a beautiful late Winter day in the Midwest.

Mother Nature wasn't messin' with us this day. She was teaching us a valuable lesson.

Anticipation keeps us waiting, makes us catatonic, encourages laziness and plays awful movies and worse sequels in our heads. We stop doing. We wait. We fixate. We are habitually late for life.

Carly Simon's suggestion to "stay right here" is a call to remain in the moment, to seek and see, to live life to its fullest and not be constrained by convincing ourselves that what might be our worst nightmares will come to pass.

Thinking we can change what has yet to happen is insanity but something parents of addicts ponder too often.

We all do this, have done this. It keeps us mired.

Some of the possibilities are tragic to be sure. Most of those tragic possibilities will never materialize. When we react to what has yet to happen we become the mechanism by which the bad dreams can come true. We enable, try to "fix" and in doing so insult and belittle our addicted children.

The message is, "You can't and never will figure this out!"

We get in the way of their victories. We get in the way of our recovery.


We can give these awful movies and the predictably awful sequels to a Power greater than we will ever be. We can say, "Here!" to God, the Universe, the Great Creator, whatever Higher Power we can visualize. The burden lifted, we might just be able to move on and go forward with our lives. We can start anticipating great things for ourselves. We can hope for the same for our sons and daughters.

It's not our weather to predict. It's our lives to live.

Hold fast to the love we will always feel for our sons and daughters. By living our lives more fully we can be a beacon to all, including the children who gave us this gift of recovery.

"And stay right here, 'cause these are the good old days."

We can live in the moment embracing each joy and trial that comes our way. In time, we'll realize those little moments are what add up to miles in our recovery journeys.

… keep coming back 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Just Keep Moving

"Journeys bring power and love back into you. If you can't go somewhere, move in the passageways of the self. They are like shafts of light. Always changing as you change when you explore them." - Rumi
At any point in our recovery there will be missteps, stumbles and relapses. Whether it is our son's or daughter's journey or our own, relapse, sadly, is a integral part of recovery.

Our recovery as parents of addicted children takes us through hills, valleys, jungles, plateaus and the occasional mountain top. Unlike the covering alcoholic or addict, our relapses into old behavior (raging, enabling, denial, bitterness, fear, anger) are not a signal to begin the "sobriety" count again. It is neither cause for celebration nor something to be defined as "total failure".

It is, simply put, a part of our recovery process, and for the record, part of ANY recovery process. Ours is a gentle road to recovery. As I will mention regularly, this MUST be.

There is a joke among the "double winners" - those recovering from the various substances and behaviors that can lead to addiction who also attend the various Al-Anon programs such as parent groups, adult children of alcoholics, family groups, codependency groups, etc. The joke is:
"In AA, if I take a drink, no matter how many days, months or years I've been sober, I have to start over, to zero days sober. In Al-Anon, if I stumble by enabling, hovering, or doing anything for the addict that he can do for himself, I simply catch myself, learn from the event and move on. And I get to keep all my coins, whether one, three, ten or 30 years."
This is always followed by laughter and smiles from all in the room because we all get the joke, eventually.

As parents of addicts we have an obligation to be gentle to ourselves in the midst of all the chaos. There will be times when we become hooked into doing for our addicted child things we really shouldn't be doing. There may be occasions when we may throw extended "pity parties" for ourselves and neglect our true calling, the journey toward our personal growth. There will be narratives playing in our minds like bad movies about things over which we have no control.

These "Could-Have-Been" epics take us away from the beauty and glory of today.

Sometimes we do all the right things, we feel as though we're taking care of ourselves and at the same time feel stuck. We feel we deserve more happiness, laughter, joy, friends and peace. It happens to all of us and when we can feel this stuck feeling, the yearning for more, we've perhaps crossed at least one bridge in our journey.

I love the use of topography to describe the journey of a recovering parent. We can picture ourselves on a plateau, exhausted, mired by muck, brush, a hedgerow or cactus. Then we can look down and imagine where we've been, where we've come from. Below our plateau is a rocky approach seemingly impossible to conquer. Below that, a jungle, a tropical rain forest teaming with snakes, bugs (I HATE bugs), disease, and the carnivorous beasts that would have devoured us had we not found the courage to fight our way out.

We can then look upward to the next plateau, steppe or mountain foothill with excitement. The burs and quills that have us stuck on the current phase of our journey are a vast improvement over the dangers of the rain forest.

For a while, that rain forest seemed so beautiful, so comforting, so safe in its familiarity. We now know remaining in that rain forest would have been deadly.

For new travelers on the journey it is often difficult to see beyond the dense jungle canopy to what lies ahead. You may have lived your entire life there. Addiction is familial. Even if your son or daughter brought you there you have quickly developed powerful skills to avoid, to buffer and combat the life threatening spirit-sucking environment. These skills have served to protect you. These skills have also served to keep you exactly where addiction wants you as a parent of an addict - unhappy.

The jungle seems to go on forever. Know this: There IS a break in the dense foliage, somewhere. And you can find that escape in any direction.

Just move on.

Keep searching. Keep striving. Keep connecting. Eventually you will see a break in that heaviness, a glimpse of what is "out there" if you want it and if you're hungry enough for something new. Perhaps you'll see sunshine for the first time in a long time. Perhaps beyond the rustling leaves is a mountaintop revealed above grass-covered foothills.

At minimum what you will notice are others progressing on their journeys, succeeding, failing, and again succeeding. If you're ready, you may even see a sidelong glance of encouragement, gently reaching out to you. These people will not pull you out of your jungle or even tell you how best to escape the morass - even if you ask.

And if you do, if you ask for the way out they'll simply smile as if they've just given you a gift.


Eventually it will dawn on you that these travelers have given you a gift, a gift of empowerment. The empowerment comes with the knowledge that only you can decide that you have a life to live. The empowerment materializes when you make it happen.

Good luck on your recovery journey. There are victories and setbacks ahead. There are plateaus followed by valleys and perhaps even a descent back to the jungle. This sine wave of recovery is a reminder of how important you and your journey are to the Universe. Wherever you are, you are an inspiration to those around you, your family, friends, and perhaps, even your addicted child.

When you become mired again remember to look around at where you've been and how far you've come. Smile, rest, and for God's sake, keep moving.

… keep coming back

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What We Can Learn From Alice Jardine and Rosebushes

One of my favorite scenes from Saving Private Ryan has Matt Damon's James Francis Ryan and Tom Hanks' Captain John H. Miller reminiscing about home. The interlude begins with Capt. Miller suggesting a way out of torment for the young Private.

"Well, when I think of home, I think of something specific. I think of my hammock in the backyard or my wife pruning the rosebushes in a pair of my old work gloves."

Ryan, having just been told of his three brothers' deaths in combat, two on the beachheads of Normandy and one in New Guinea uses this opportunity to feel the pain of loss for the first time. He relates the story of his two older brothers waking him up one night to bear witness to his oldest brother in the barn "with" Alice Jardine, a girl who, as he describes her, has taken "… a nosedive from the ugly tree and hit every branch coming down."

He is laughing as he finishes this story that had been buried deep probably since basic training. He takes a deep sigh after the cathartic soliloquy and breathes, "That was the last time the four of us were together. That was two years ago."

Ryan pauses, turns and invites Miller to share.

"Tell me about your wife and those rosebushes," he offers.

"No, no," Miller replies. "That one I save just for me."

As audience members, what we have witnessed is a powerful interchange between two men who have over the course of less than a year, witnessed too much of life and have chosen different paths to healing.

As parents of addicted children we'll often find ourselves at different stages on different paths to different destinations as we attempt to sort out what is happening with us on our personal recovery journeys. We too have witnessed too much of life. We can all choose different paths to healing.

Our experiences affect us differently depending on who we are and how far we've ventured along our individual paths to our own inner peace. A lot can depend on whether or not we've made the leap of faith necessary to accept that the journey of our children may not be (and eventually, accept that it IS not) our journey. We may be ready to talk about our feelings, to share our pain and to let go of the pain or, we may not be ready to open up. The experiences of parents of addicted children are hauntingly similar but often (and usually) affect each parent completely differently.

Some may be ready to feel the feelings rush over and through their tortured psyches as witnessed by Matt Damon's portrayal of an emotionally destroyed Private Ryan. Others may need to keep it in, for now.

And that's ok.

Allowing ourselves to start the journey of recovery on our own terms is a first step in healing and dealing with the pain inherent with being the parent of a child struggling with any addiction.

This journey is a gentle journey - it needs to be and must be. We've been through enough. It's time to give ourselves a little slack.

… keep coming back