Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stumbles - Or … Just Keep Moving, Part Deux

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great." ~ Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own

So you're feeling stuck, like you've stumbled in your recovery.

Welcome to the club!

It can be a phone call received, a boundary breached, a seemingly dire situation that really didn't require our intervention.

Perhaps something our sons or daughters said sent us into a tirade or worse yet into one of our two-minute long pontifications!

 The opening line of "Can't Help Falling in Love" sung way back in 1961 by Elvis Presley is, "Wise men say only fools rush in."

Sometimes we rush in. It doesn't make us foolish. It just means we're human, and we're parents.

There are two ways of looking at stumbles. This narrative will focus more on the inevitability of stumbles and how we can learn and even thrive as a result of these toe stubs. In a future post we can discuss how not to force, but rather Face the real issues that may lead us to temporarily lose our "balance."

Stumbles are bound to happen. We get tired. We don't eat well. We don't get enough exercise or sleep. We watch too much News (or we watch the News). We are stressed at work or unemployed. The bills are piling up. The dog chewed the toilet paper again and the remnants are everywhere - a metaphor for something but let's not get sidetracked!

The inevitable occurs and we lose sight of our pathway, take misstep after misstep tumbling down the hillside to a familiar briar patch, gully, or God forbid, that jungle we remember all too well.

Remember the game Chutes and Ladders? Remember that damned slide?

Stumbles are a lot like that, only with quite a bit more intention than chance involved. But, like the slide in Chutes and Ladders stumbles are less a reflection on who we are as human beings and parents, or how authentic we are, or even how attentive to our own recoveries we have been, or even how well we play the "game."  Rather, the slide and stumbles are part of the game and a integral part of our recovery.

How many times have we won the game Chutes and Ladders after repeated visits to the slide?

"Chutes" teaches that sometimes things just happen. "Chutes" taught us an important lesson as children that thanks to our parents and society we have forgotten. This lesson is we are not always in control but with enough faith and trust with a dose of perseverance thrown in we can prevail and flourish. 

Just as relapse is sadly and painfully a partner of an addict's recovery, stumbles are a repeating function of ours. In many cases stumbles manifest themselves through uncertainty. We've learned so much, come so far in our journeys. We've spoken to counsellors, we've read the books and daily readings.  We have found kindred spirits in Al-Anon meetings and other 12-Step programs to assure us we our not alone in our quest to improve our lives. 

Still, we doubt ourselves.

"Should I have addressed that issue, was it really a worthwhile or necessary battle to wage at this time? Should I have paid that insurance bill, that cell phone bill even if she said she would pay me back? Should I have gone looking for him in the middle of the night fearful he was plummeting again (or further) into the deep abyss of addiction?"

Or, does our behavior toward our children instead begin to pass the T-H-I-N-K test?

Is it Thoughtful, Intelligent (or even Inciteful), Necessary and Kind? 

Do our actions pass the THINK test for our own recoveries?

Sometimes we may look upon past actions, outbursts or regrettable decisions with remorse. We know better. How could we have been sucked in again? How could we have allowed ourselves to steal our children's consequences, again?

Remember, ours is a gentle recovery. Ours is recovery built upon the stumbles of so-called errors in judgment. We begin our journeys as toddlers, skinned knees and elbows become a common occurrence. We'll reopen old wounds. Scars will be left as a testament of our ability to heal and learn. And just like a toddler we begin to stumble less and realize those falls and the pain and the blood and the tears were all about getting to that next step, that next phase of our journeys.

Every stumble is meant to be. It is the Universe', God's, the Great Creator's way of letting us know that we are on the right path. It's not meant to be easy this recovery of ours. Get up, learn and go gently on to continued growth and happiness as your child stumbles as well, along her chosen road. 

… keep coming back

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


"Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions." ~ Hafez 
We all want predictions of events before they occur. Entire industries have formed to tell us what the future holds for the stock markets, new movie releases, world events, and of course the weather. Logistics companies and similar organizations are required to not simply suggest efficiencies but anticipate the unforeseen, the unknowable. We are constantly deluged with advertising telling us the advertisers can protect us from those awful events that are surely to transpire. No wonder we live in such a negative society.

Who ever warns us about good things looming over the horizon.

Parents regularly make predictions. We do this with all the best intentions to prepare our children for those things that really DO go bump in the night and day, things for which our children are unprepared.

Parents of addicts don't make predictions. We go one step further.

We make projections.

We make movies. We make Lawrence of Arabia and Lord of the Rings epics that run in our heads like a never ending afternoon matinee. Our brains are the screen. Our directors script films where only the worst can happen. We are caught in Scorsese-like plot lines with dire circumstances a recurring theme. Victor Hugo would be hard pressed to write something as dour as our minds can conceive.

These movies never go to video, remaining on our mind's eye screen forever portending only worse-case scenarios. They never end.

"The End" is the unthinkable denouement we all fear in varying degrees.

These movies can rule our lives if we let them.

My wife and I have begun to live outside our respective comfort zones and have ventured outside of our little boxes as part of our individual journeys. We have done this slowly and gently. St. Louis has a wonderful outdoor municipal theater (The Muny) where Broadway plays are hosted as summer stock in both classic and more recent styles. Last summer we bought tickets and actually attended West Side Story and Mary Poppins, simple pleasures we had denied ourselves for too long. I'd like to share a line from Mary Poppins - the Musical that will forever remain on guard at the entrance to the projection room where those Scorsese films are now much less frequently shown:
"Anything can happen if you let it!"
I would never have heard that line, repeated throughout the musical - it is not in the movie -had I not moved along my journey to burst out of my "creature of habit" existence.

We all can make our decisions to enrich our lives by living to life's fullest potential. We all have our "Muny" theaters we can attend. We can go to the projectionist's booth in our heads and demand that the film noir cinematic previews of our children's futures be swapped out for a more positive motion picture of what can happen for us, if we allow it. We will find this to be affirming for us and those we care for who watch as we grow, seek and strive. Our focus now back on us and no longer on the sons and daughters who brought us to this journey, may just scare the shit out of our children.  As we continue our recovery, they are left instead to find their own solutions.

While our movies may not be of the Disney or John Hughes genre, we may have a shot at a Zemeckis film with lots of recovery journey sub plots! Watch Castaway again if you don't know what I mean!

… keep coming back

"Anything can happen if you let it. Life is out there waiting so go and get it. Grab it by the collar, seize it by the scruff. Once you've started living you just can't get enough." ~ Mary Poppins, The Musical

Monday, May 26, 2014

Outside Our Journeys - Testing

"Panic is our great enemy." ~ Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go

Occasionally I will post on issues that arise outside of our immediate pathway journeys. These are real-world distractions that are important, but may divert us from our focus. Please read on … 

Our community drug and alcohol awareness coalition is quite accomplished at maintaining focus and keeping our egos out of the discussions we have regarding keeping kids safe and educating the at-large community about adolescent addiction.

Our focus doesn't waiver, even amid the myriad of causes and issues that come our way. It's not that we endorse human trafficking. Embracing causes that are noble yet not in our immediate purview would dilute our effectiveness. We have enough on our plate without spreading our battle lines too sparsely and we are extremely conscious of not becoming "political."

This lack of ego when setting objectives among board members has been the most astonishing aspect of my involvement with this group and was made evident during a discussion about drug testing.

Drug testing is often though of as the ultimate first line of defense for parents struggling with the onset of addiction in their families. The coalition board members calmly debated this volatile issue in earnest, listening intently and respectfully to each point of view. Our board is partially comprised of a father of an addict, a mother of children ranging in age from high school into college, another mother of adolescents who is also a social worker for a neighboring county's prevention coalition, and two employees of a national drug and alcohol awareness association who through the grace of God continue to mentor, nurture and see potential in our barely burgeoning coalition.

All of us are painfully aware of the need for coalitions like ours for the health and welfare of our entire community. Not everyone in our immediate sphere of influence see us in this way. If it's not their problem, well, it's not their problem.

But I digress.

Each of us brings our experience, strengths and hopes and passions to the group. The drug testing issue brought out a plethora of these in the span of a brief ten-minute dialogue.

Our social worker mom expressed her belief that children should be drug tested and that an irregular testing schedule is an effective deterrent to teens straying into substance abuse. We shared knowledge of various local schools, private mostly, that have attempted to corral the issue. The measures employed include testing only the jocks and only during the students' in-season time, testing of all kids in activities and one local school district that performs random universal testing.

We can all draw our own conclusions on the mixed messages inherent with these various methods, but all the coalition members agreed that along with parents, the schools have a tough road to travel in this regard.

I offered my own experiences about our son's drug test results lighting up like a Christmas tree and all of us, (mom, dad, counselor) going into deep denial about the results. I also reminded everyone of a mother in attendance at a past coalition meeting who proudly told us all that she stands in the bathroom with her son and tells him to "pea in the cup."

I shared that I had nothing to say to that mom out of respect of the struggle I knew she was experiencing, although I knew I should have told her that she is risking the loss of a gift all parents can give themselves. The gift is the ability to be a sounding board for their teens' thoughts, anxieties, fears, joys and victories. I ended my contribution to the discussion by stating my belief that it is a fine line in the sand a parent must draw that divides our roles as mentors and guides, moms and dads, and that of watchdog, Mother and Father. I went on to explain this fine line has everything to do with self esteem and allowing our kids to find their own ways in an enabling society, allowing them to learn and hopefully flourish from their experiences.

Our NCADA mentors brought us full circle with some real data about correlations between drug testing, early intervention and addiction. They always bring with them these clinical real-world snippets of information - that's why we love them!

At the end we agreed as a coalition to endorse a suggestion to parents to have drug testing kits visible in the household and to be prepared to utilize the kits if they feel the need. This came with another suggestion to use the kit placement to have an open, nonjudgmental and calm discussion about underage drinking and substance abuse with their pre-teens and teens - which is an overarching message to parents in all session we have.

To say this was a major breakthrough for the coalition is an understatement, but pales to the thought process and personal breakthroughs all of us made as parents as a result of this discussion. As coalition members we coalesced into a more unified and gentle group to serve our community.

Then as if on cue the 800-pound gorilla appeared in the corner of our chairperson's living room conjured by thoughts percolating within all of us.

The gorilla wore a white tee shirt with these words screen printed on the front:


On the back, in larger letters:


And so begins a new parental journey …

… keep coming back 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

More Haiku For Yu!

Mountain am I, or …
A valley of deep despair
My eagle still soars

A rock feels no pain
And an island never cries
Hai'-kyou Paul Simon

Morning's blue skies bloom
Tulips reach to meet the Sun
Spring's sweet symphony

Where are you Purple?
Hydrangea awaits Spring's call
A Season's big tease

Sometimes we falter
Or rise to the occasion
Our parents' pathway

Look through the raindrops and see …
Beauty all around

~ by Patrick Benjamin

 keep coming back

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bliss: The "F" Word Cubed!

"If humankind would accept and acknowledge its responsibility to become creatively engaged in the process of evolution, consciously as well as unconsciously, a new reality would emerge and a new age could be born."    ~ Jonas Salk

Any one of us on the parental road to recovery must proceed down pathways toward changes of the evolutionary kind. Consciously or unconsciously we all eventually become creatively engaged in the pursuit of building for ourselves a new reality.

It requires inspired creativity to change behaviors and attitudes. It takes inspired creativity to be grateful in the midst of chaos.

Inspired creativity is needed to give all the bile, verbal vomit, spew, anger, sturm and drang, negativity, lies, and other drama directed at us by the addict to a Higher Power, God, the Universe, something Greater than we can ever be. This inspired creativity mixed with a bit of courage is requisite for taking those first few steps for moving on and living life.

In a previous post we discussed the dreaded concept of FUN, that "F" word to many of us who had handed over our lives to our children's addictions.

Let us now take this a step further.

What makes us … blissful?

Merriam-Webster defines bliss very simply as "complete happiness."

The Germans have a word for this. It is Gemutlichkeit, roughly translated by English dictionaries as amity, comfort, coziness, benevolence, cordiality, brotherhood. My German teachers explained that Gemutlichkeit is a term untranslatable into English defining it as a state of calmness, contented in oneness with a person's surroundings and companions. Gemutlichkeit is as close to Zen as the Germans will admit to approaching. This sense of "beyond happiness" once achieved, extends past our own small worlds to those around us. It can be argued that Gemutlichkeit is what we are looking for as we strive not to enable our children, but to be the beacons our newly-formed lives can be to spur them on to see what the Universe has for them outside of their addictions.

So what makes us blissful, what moves us to that Gemutlichkeit-like (try saying that 10 times fast) state of mind?

Examples can include grandchildren, hugs from spouses, hugs from kids, cool summer mornings, visiting a museum for the first time in years, stepping back to watch interactions between friends, teeing off in the 1st tee-box when the dew is still on the ground (OK, that's one of mine), immersing ourselves in a favorite hobby, relaxing poolside, experiencing a favorite meal with friends, or walking the dog through a nature trail and being "surprised" by Nature.

Start a list, just 3 or 5 blissful situations to begin with. Fight, yes fight every week to experience at least one of your blissful catalysts if you can. Be gentle with yourself. This is not a test, but rather an opportunity to live and grow. True self nurturing  doesn't come easily to any of us but once we get started we'll want it more and more.

Our children who brought us to this journey will be better for it.

…  keep coming  back

"The miracle will happen and then you'll want it to happen again tomorrow!"     ~ Bill Murray as Frank Cross in Scrooged

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Falling Down

"Refuse to fall down. If you cannot refuse to fall down refuse to stay down. If you cannot refuse to stay down, lift your heart toward heaven and like a hungry beggar ask that it be filled and it will be filled. You may be pushed down. You may be kept from rising. But no one can keep you from lifting your heart toward heaven." ~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Things happen for a reason and there was a Universal karmic force at work for why I was not introduced to this quotation from America poet, scholar, Jungian psychologist and post-trauma specialist Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes early on in my recovery.

I simply was not ready to receive it. I would have blown the opportunity.

I had been introduced to Dr. Estes years before when I was more concerned with what was happening to and around me than within. Her Warming the Stone Child is one of the many books on my list of must reads.

This quote was thrust upon me for a reason. It is the perfect metaphor for what we as parents feel, what we must endure to persevere, flourish and live life to the fullest!

We all refer to our children's fall to addiction like a punch to the gut. At first we are knocked down but like Rocky Balboa in the first movie (OK, in ALL the movies) we keep pulling ourselves up for more punishment, body blows, more head shots. It isn't until we are down and beaten that we can begin our recovery. The "bottom" that psychologists refer to that an addict must reach - there are actually many bottoms accompanied by relapse, bottom, relapse - is also true of recovery of parents of addicts. Nothing we do to mask or combat our son's or daughter's addictions will help. We spiral with our children in their co-dependent, enabling, belittling, addictive, learned behaviors.

We become like Richard Gere's character, Zack Mayo, in An Officer and A Gentleman who emoted to gunnery sergeant Louis Gossett Jr., "I got nowhere else to go!"

But where to go is the question, isn't it? Taking Dr. Estes quotation in segments can shed some light on how we can begin.
"But no one can keep you from lifting your heart toward heaven."
Being beaten and spent emotionally and physically is one thing. Accepting this as our forever life status is another. The acceptance of "being beaten" is so defeating we can become paralyzed. Men, especially, are not supposed to be helpless or clueless. We are programmed to fix things whether these things are fences, faucets or our addicted children. Reaching out to a Power, an Entity outside ourselves we can instead say, "Here, take this from me, I can't do this."

It becomes apparent that not only can we not fix this thing that can't be fixed or controlled, it was not in our power to do so.

This is the ultimate epiphany. Now what do we do with it?
"You may be pushed down. You may be kept from rising."
Our children often remain addicted, spiraling downward despite our best efforts. We become scared, angry and helpless. We can give the task of saving our sons and daughters to a Power greater than ourselves but now what are we supposed to do? Out of nowhere angels will appear if we look for them and are willing to see, inspiring us to work on our recovery, our relationships, to seek out parents in similar situations (oh, we're out there!) and to open our hearts to the possibilities inside of us.

We may be down, but we are not out.

We can allow ourselves to stay down for now. It's ok. We can bolster the courage to accept defeat and await answers and miracles - but not on our terms or timeline. We can simply let it, all of it, go.

"If you cannot refuse to stay down, lift your heart toward heaven and like an angry beggar ask that it be filled and it will be filled."
Our defeat can become our salvation. We can stop reacting. We can stop raging. We can cease forcing our wills upon our family, friends coworkers and our addicted children. We can become changed souls even to the extent that our change is uncomfortable to those around us .

We will experience energy we haven't had in years. We'll want more for us and realize that the new life energy we are experiencing is meant for us to use in our recovery journeys. We can open our hearts and souls to possibilities.

The mantra of "…take this off my shoulders" will soon be accompanied by, "… show me the way!"

A line in Billy Joel's song James that I often quoted even prior to my son's recovery is, "Do what's good for you or you're no good for anybody".

We can become the embodiment of Joel's composition.
"Refuse to fall down. If you cannot refuse to fall down, refuse to stay down."
So we refuse to fall down, although sometimes we will. We relapse. We find ourselves dipping our toes in old behavior, thoughts and those damn "coming attractions" of future events over which we have no control.

But we can refuse to stay down.

What were once body blows become mere glances. We may feel their sting but we can anticipate the jabs, uppercuts and crosses that our son's and daughter's addictions may throw our way. We can leave the ring. There is no time in our lives for the boxing match. There is so much life outside that dark, dank, oh so familiar gym waiting for us.

We can strive for perfection knowing we will never attain it. We can get up knowing our possibilities are limited only by our belief in the Universe and its plans for us.

…  keep coming back

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


"I got a half dozen paintings from that shattered plate." ~ Georgia O'Keefe
It was Easter eve morning a few years ago and I was readying myself for an early start to the day. I glanced outside to our back porch and saw an EA Sports hockey DVR box sitting on our little wrought iron table.

I was feeling generous and cheerful this beautiful Saturday morning and decided to bring the game inside for whoever had left it there the previous evening. Both boys had been at home that night, my then sixteen year old had friends over.

As I approached the table I noticed some dirt or debris on the box and was ready to knock the "substance" off when I discovered that it was a substance - seeds, leaves and stems, remnants of a night spent smoking pot, by someone.

My first emotions hit me simultaneously: anger, and bewilderment rolled up into a fleeting resolve to "get to the bottom of this right away."

I experienced an overwhelming feeling of sadness. I stepped back from the table with the box in my hand, the image of a professional hockey player partially obscured by the green cannabis leftovers.

Punched in the gut does not sufficiently describe how I felt that brisk Spring morning.

It then hit me. My experiences and tools I had assembled over the past seven or so years as an often reluctant recovering father of an addict, the experience, strength and hope of other parents with whom I have surrounded myself, my overarching belief that there is, MUST BE a Higher Power at work here, these all kicked in.

I took another step back while preserving the evidence on the box and thought to myself, "It's Easter tomorrow. It's a joyous day. I'm going to take care of myself today and tomorrow, I'm going to enjoy these days and revisit this on Monday."

I resolved to not go back to being that raging and controlling accuser of my past life. And I did not.

I took the "evidence" inside and placed it gently inside the cluttered storage area of my armoire and left to get back to my usual early Saturday morning start. This issue would need to be addressed with both boys. While detachment is important, detachment must include the setting of boundaries. Even then I knew this as an important element of taking care of ourselves as parents of addicted children.  A major household and previously stated boundary had been crossed.

But I would not address this on Easter eve or Easter.

I turned on the ignition to my Altima, closed my eyes and did the 4-7-8 breathing taught to me by a calm and joyous friend. I said a prayer. I took care of me.

Too deep and weepy?

Too bad!

I had considered calling a family meeting or simply bringing both boys together for a conclave. I decided against either over concerns that this type of "shock and awe" gatherings, my old-style methods, never worked and most often resulted in fruitless blaming and cross-accusatory sessions.

I decided on brief individual meetings with both boys, my plan was to catch them one after another to avoid the "Did dad talk to you?" conversations. Monday came and went. It seemed as if both boys were doing a dance of being separately in or out of the house. It was Tuesday evening when I was able to speak to them.

I began each conversation the same way with an expository opening statement:

"I found an EA Sports hockey game outside on the wrought iron table Saturday morning. It had remnants of  pot on it."

I tailored my accompanying words to each boy. To one I simply added, "You know the history, , you've seen what it can do."

I added, "I know you had friends over that night."

To the son who brought me to recovery the additional words were simple.

"There were rules to be followed when you moved back here. This is your journey, not mine and not anyone else's."

Both boys denied any involvement. This I had expected. The addict owns up to nothing. The non-offending party has nothing to own up to. There were no loud denials, no protests. Both boys simply and quietly said, "It wasn't me."

I truly believe neither of them knew how to react to this. It was a surreal departure from my previous behavior when handling situations such as this.

I had taken care of me.

The next weekend my addicted child came to me and admitted, "Dad, it was me with the pot." 

I thanked him for his honesty and calmly asked, "Do you know why you did this?"

"I don't know Dad."

A boundary had been crossed but admitting that he had broken a trust was a huge step for my son. Or perhaps this was simply the brilliance of the addict manipulating a parent like a marionette. I let the transgression pass this time providing my son a few more months of enabling. It was June of that same year, having crossed every boundary and broken every trust, he was asked to leave our home, his home, for the last time.

The series of events played out that post-Easter week were not perfect by a long shot When we as parents of addicts face disappointment it's up to us to reassemble the pieces of our lives and build a picture of where we want to go more beautiful and complete than we could have ever imagined. Our journeys will be interrupted and sidetracked by addiction, a sly and cunning mistress that preys on both the addict and those who love him. The experiences and tools gained while traveling along our recovery paths prepare us for the sirens that will attempt to alter our course into the abyss of parental despair.

These are our lives to live, our worlds to embrace and our self discoveries to explore.

We cannot let anything steal our little victories toward recovery.

… keep coming back

"The real glory is getting knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory. That's the essence of it." ~ Vince Lombardi