Monday, June 30, 2014

I Have A Right To Be Happy

"You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of the world's happiness now."  ~ Dale Carnegie
Al-Anon meetings are all about anonymity, confidentiality, privacy. Like other 12-Step meetings only first names are used and what is shared, emoted and often cried does not leave the rooms in which the words of pain, sadness, defeat, victory, experience, strength and hope are spoken.

When my wife asks how a meeting went, I simply respond by saying, "Good," and leave it there.

I want to break protocol now and share words I believe to be pivotal in beginning and continuing recovery journeys as parents of children who have succumbed to addiction:
"I have a right to be happy."
I do not share this lightly. These meetings are meant to be private and safe, but I do not feel the person who said these words would be offended by seeing them put "out there."

I share these words because as parents of addicts we often hear these phrases and others like them as if they were crazy talk.

"A RIGHT to be happy. Are you NUTS! I can't be happy with all the insanity whirling around me."

"When was the last time I said the words, 'I have a right to be happy?'" I pondered.

When was the last time any of us said those words?

Almost 250 years ago our founding fathers knew this and I am certain, none of them had been to a 12-Step meeting:
We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Imagine the hellish conditions born of British rule that would inspire a group of men hoping to be taken seriously to insert "… Pursuit of Happiness" in their list of grievances.

The citizens represented by the Continental Congress were under the thumb of a tyrannical occupying army they thought they knew, but one that would soon become foreign to them. There seemed to be no justification for the behavior of these former countrymen. There was no respect. The colonists were walking on eggshells in their own land.

Sound familiar?

At some point in our recovery journeys we will need to submit to ourselves, to our addicted children and to the Universe our personal Declaration of Independence:
"I have a right to be happy."
We can shout this from our own private mountaintops, whisper it in private, or insert the written declaration in our wallets or purses to occasionally find as a Universal reminder when we really need it.

This is our happiness we're talking about. And our happiness let loose can spread like a revolution. There will be setbacks, skirmishes, even wars, and wars after wars when we think everything is "fine" (remember 1812?).

Hold on to that inalienable right. It is a powerful invention - Happiness. By slowly replacing our fears with this Happiness thing we can find a peace we've not experienced in a long time.

We can carve out our own great nation of possibilities!

Thomas Jefferson would be proud.

Happy Independence Day fellow travelers!

… keep  coming back

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Enabling's End - A Personal Story

"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

As parents sometimes good is good enough. As parents of addicts good isn't nearly enough. To be true parents to our addicted children while first taking care of ourselves takes greatness. We're in the Big Leagues now. This is "The Show."We cannot cruise anymore hoping for the best, trusting that we'll be OK along with our children, the groundwork laid at age 10 sustaining them through adulthood.

As parents of children struggling with addiction to be true to ourselves we've got to allow ourselves to be called up to the "Bigs." At some point the call to Greatness will come and we'll be required to answer that call.

And it is … hard.

It was Christmastime in 2012 …

My son appeared ready to turn his life around. He seemed to have stopped using saying he was tired of "the life" and was ready to do the things to right his ship. He was ready to take his GED exam to finally have that high school diploma in hand. He was ready to start down his road to sobriety.

He was honest with his mother and me about 12-Step meetings. He wasn't sure about the effectiveness. Rather than perceiving this as a red flag I remembered his journey would eventually lead him to meetings or not. This was NOT my journey.

Financially he was floundering. This 14-year-old trapped in a much older body due to the deleterious effects of chronic marijuana use on his adolescent brain chemistry left my son ill prepared for the real world.

Yet, he seemed ready, or at least willing, to turn his life around.

He was out of our home at the time. He had taken refuge from our rules months before to a rental home in a nearby county known for its trailer parks, meth labs and total disregard for zoning.

On the same page my wife and I agreed to give our son a "leg up" with ground rules, or as I referred to them, deal breakers:

No Using
No Pipes or other "accoutrements" on property
Begin GED studies
Take an active part in household activities and workload

We allowed our son to move back home.

His progress report for the "semester" ending in July resulted in respective grades of F, F, I, and D minus.

During July I began finding pipes indifferently hidden, or in some instances, left in plain sight. Seeing these I realized that once again, for so many reasons, our son could not stay - again.

My wife confided in me she had known months ago he had been using.

He caught a reprieve from his pending banishment via a story about a building his boss had just bought (true). The owner of the company was fixing up an upper room of the building for my son to live (unlikely).

"He says he'll be happy to have someone at the building 24/7," the disease within my son said, another untruth I would later learn.

When facing dire circumstances addiction will do its utmost to compel our children into survival mode. The disease will lie, cheat, steal and obstruct while at the same time slowly destroying its host from the inside out, body and soul.

July stretched into August. With no emotion one August evening I firmly told him, "You need to be out of the house by the end of September."

Two weeks prior to the deadline I reiterated, "Even if the apartment isn't ready you need to be out by next Monday. October 1st is a Tuesday."

"I KNOW Dad," was his response as he channelled Napoleon Dynamite.

That summer had been for me difficult if not debilitating both physically and emotionally. The experience had been exhausting. There wasn't a day during that summer when I felt one hundred percent.  The "leg up" experiment into which I entered with the best of intentions and motives had instead become an exercise in enabling.

I was duped by a disease, again. I wanted to believe he was ready and he was being honest with me. Had I not immersed myself in a summer-long pursuit to examine and expand both my creativity and spirituality (thank you from the bottom of my heart Julia Cameron) I may have not survived.

Still, the finality of my son's eventual parting was weighing heavily on my mind, body and soul.

In the end I came to realize I was doing my son no favor by allowing him to remain at our home. I was also being an irresponsible parent to our younger son by allowing his older brother to sidestep rules and boundaries to which he as the son who did NOT bring me to this journey was held accountable. In acting as if everything was fine with the toxic situation I was interfering with my journey and dashing any hopes that my addicted son would embark on his.

This time, however, was different. I detached with my son this time around, with love. I came to understand the sad and pathetic life that his had become. His addiction, the disease that had brought him to this life-in-limbo would occasionally cause me to believe that it might be easier, for me, to hate both my son and the addiction.

Performing the dance in and out of the various stages of detachment proved to me that I did not hate my son. I had come to the realization that I loved my son and hated the disease that had taken him.

And this would make all the difference.

On September 12, 1962 at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy reminded the American people that, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard." 

We had no business going to to moon in 1969 but beyond all logic, two human beings were able, with virtually no fuel remaining, to achieve a soft landing at Tranquility Base on July 16, 1969. 

It can be so hard to do the "other things" we need to do for ourselves, perhaps knowing, but not necessarily believing these just may be the right things for our children. We have to proceed beyond all logic, our children's journeys as improbable as NASA's Mercury, Gemini and Apollo progression to the greatness we as a nation experienced less than seven years after Kennedy's challenge.

Of the TRUST tripartite of Faith, Hope and Love, as our church's associate pastor once said, "Hope, is the crazy one." Hope requires the most perseverance, the most abandonment of our first trusted tendencies. But Hope can remain when all else has failed. Even after we have pushed Faith aside - Faith never leaves unilaterally - Hope can stand fast with us if we allow it in our lives. Strengthened by our growth and our self assurance that we are doing our part by living our lives to the fullest extent, Hope is a partner helping to carry us along our recovery journeys.

An angel gave me the words to say to my son the day he left our home. These words I remember every time I think of him and I even repeat bits and pieces of this goodbye in conversations I have with him:
"My son, I love you. You're going to be fine. You're going to get back on track. You just can't accomplish this here."
As parents of addicts we all have decisions to make. What is right for us may be to separate our addicted children from our household as I did, or to allow them to remain with boundaries, to step back, or to engage and extend a necessary lifeline. These are personal decisions as we all proceed along our individual recovery pathways.

We can detach with love from our children and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. If we're persistent and with Hope as our partner (and Faith and Love not far behind), we can move along on our recovery journeys and possibly find, each of us, our personal Tranquility base.

… keep coming back 
"Leap and the net will appear." ~ Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

Friday, June 20, 2014

Detachment - The Big "D" Great Chasm In Our Journeys

"Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom." ~ Hannah Arendt
It is something we are all asked to do, or compelled to do, or something we know we MUST do as parents of children who have succumbed to addiction. This "something" is Detachment. And as we look at our children to whom we have given so much, for whom we have tried so hard to save, detachment can seem like an insurmountable boundary to be crossed along our recovery journeys.

Detachment is like a huge loop in a board game where we have landed on a square diverting us from the direct path to the endgame, or a card drawn that sends us backwards in our progression to victory. In either case the space, or card, reads:

You have been told that you must stop enabling and insulting your addicted child. You have been told to D E T A C H - Proceed to Bewilderment Boulevard. Lose Three Turns.
The problem with detachment is it is a process. Detachment isn't something we wake up one day and achieve any more than our children awoke one day with the full intention to give their lives over to substance abuse or any of the myriad addictions out there for the taking. Like the 5 stages of grief as proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book "On Death and Dying," there are various stages of Detachment we must endure to progress in our recoveries. Let's take a look at these. Like Kubler-Ross' list, these may vary in order and we may even bounce back and forth between some as we work through our journey process.

Paramount in this phase of our recover is our firm belief that where there is life, there IS hope for both our children and ourselves. Without this conviction detachment will seem like a unconquerable barrier.

Detachment with Resentment - the "No Conviction" detachment

So we have been told or have come to the conclusion, logically, that enabling our children is certainly not in their best interest and possibly not in ours. With teeth and jaws clenched we embark on the mission of detaching from our children and because we have come to this conclusion logically, we are not on board fully with ourselves in our own resolve. We are conflicted internally yet at the same time since it seems like the right thing to do we detach the only way we can, logically.

We go away.

How else to end our insertions and incursions into our addicted children's lives but by going away, sometimes physically, mostly emotionally? We cease showing up for our kids, our families and ourselves. This is the "you want me to detach, so I'm detaching" detachment. There's no anger or malice in this. We're incapable of feeling those emotions this early in our detachment journey.

Eventually, we find this does not work and wonder where all this talk about detachment is leading us. We blow up in explosions of shoulds and have tos for our sons and daughters that have been pent up for what seems like decades. We do things that no sane person might even consider. We take out frustrations on anyone we care about.

Initial Conclusion on Detachment: Doesn't work!

Detachment with Anger 

We're not feeling any better and what is worse, our son or daughter isn't any better. We wonder if our initial foray into detachment may have worsened the situation. Still, there is something lingering in our minds about this detachment thing that we suppose makes detachment worth a second try.

The problem this time is that the more we pull away it seems our children stumble further into the spiral of addiction. Becoming more defiant they almost taunt our attempts to allow them to suffer their own consequences. Detachment becomes a Newtonian equal and opposite reaction dance between us and our children.

We become detaching ragers and enablers. It seems impossible that we would be at the same time attempting to separate ourselves from the addict and making these guerrilla runs into their lives as soon as the detachment proves itself to be ineffective.

Are we losing our minds?

And our child is still … not … fixed!

The addict is playing us, it seems. Or are we simply playing into the addict's hands?

We're tired, but not that tired. We will not be beaten. If this is what addiction has done to our child perhaps there is a better way to pursue this detachment thing. In the meantime all we can feel is anger at our children. We're trying to change - can't she see this, can't he give us some credit?

We know they're doing this on purpose. They are willing partners with their addiction, with the sole purpose of the partnership being to devastate and destroy us.

Detachment with Passive Aggressiveness

We may have a solution. We have had mentors for pursuing a new and better way of detaching - parents, partners, husbands, wives, friends.

We will no longer interfere in our children's lives. If they wish to throw away potential and abandon dreams while alienating everyone who loves them and who they had once said they loved - so long ago it seems - well, let 'em.

We are the parent so guidance is important. We stop offering help or advice and apply a better arm's-length technique. We use sarcasm to insert our messages not so subtly into the few conversations we have with our children. We do not tell them what to do or what not to do, we simply insert rapier thrusts of innuendo with undertones of dissatisfaction into each fleeting interchange.

We amplify this tactic with avoidance. We avoid eye contact. We pass in the hallways with not even a nod of acknowledgment. It's as if they don't exist. Maybe this is what "detachment" is all about!

If our sons don't want to be part of the family and abide by the rules of the household so be it. If our daughters revel in this "walking-on-eggshells" household we have deliberately created then it's their life to live, not ours!

This will work. This has to work. No one could possibly live like this for long!

Could they?

Detachment with Sadness - Detachment of the Exhausted, the Defeated

Then, at some point, it hits us. We become … overcome. We are overcome with sadness, pain, exhaustion. We are beaten. We have nowhere to turn but outside of ourselves and with or without guidance we look for something or someone to dump all the crap we have been ingesting over the past months, years, or even decades.

This is the most painful stage of detachment. This is the detachment stage of the defeated parent.

We realize there is nothing we can do for our children. The allure, the pull of their chosen substance or habit is too strong. Every attempt we have made to "fix" our sons or daughters has resulted in a further spiraling into their chosen vortex of addiction.

We are ready for help. Somehow, if we are blessed, and most of us will be, we will find it. This is the beginning of a trust we will forge with a Universal Presence to which (or whom) we can take all the burdens accumulated over the years, lift them off our shoulders and say, "Here, take this. I can't handle it anymore."

We'll cry. Some of us will smile or even laugh, the burden lifted. We're ready for the final stage of detachment. This surrender may not come immediately, but it will arrive like a warm blanket wrapped around those bruised and worn shoulders that have carried too much for too long.

With this utter defeat behind us we are ready, for something that we know is coming. We just don't what what that "something" is. This is a time for rest. This is a time for reflection. This is a time for beginnings, for rebirth. We are ready, truly ready to begin our recovery journey. We are ready to be gentle to ourselves for the first time in a long time.

Detachment With Love … or … The Revelation of Loving the Addict and Hating the Addiction

Our children have spiraled into lives they continue to cultivate but never in their wildest dreams wished for.

Our sons didn't wake up one day and pronounce, "Today, I'll start down the road to addiction."

Our daughters never conspired to make our lives miserable, never said, "They'll be sorry when I'm arrested for possession of a controlled substance."

We begin to look at our children differently. We see them again in quiet moments for the first time in what seems like an eternity, our children, not our addicts. We look back on all the fixes we employed to cure the addiction and realize the control, the constant badgering was ineffective at best and at worst insulting. We realize that by constantly inserting ourselves into the lives of our addicted sons and daughters struggling with a disease created a feeling within them that they are less than, incapable of cognitive thought.

This is their disease. And this IS a disease, NOT a character flaw.

All these thoughts rush into our heads as we remember our babies crawling across the carpet for the first time, throwing the 12-6 curve ball for the final out or nailing the dismount off the balance beam.

This is their journey. We have ours.

We learn to love the addict and hate the addiction. And that warm blanket we accepted days or months or years earlier reminds us, gently, that we are not alone in our grief - which is still there. We enjoin other recovering parents to partner with us as we embark on our personal journey to recovery. We allow the Universe, God, the Great Creator, the Great Spirit, Nature, a Higher Power greater than ourselves to mentor us because we now know, logically and spiritually, we cannot do this alone.

And for the first time in along time, we Breathe, look around, and see beautiful vistas ahead if we are only courageous and joy-filled enough to take those first steps.

We will walk together with our children on separate journeys.

We'll falter certainly. We'll bounce around these "stages." They're not numbered for a reason!

When we reach that trailhead to our recovery we'll know it. People around us will know it. It's a beautiful feeling that we'll want everyday.

Bon voyage!

. . . keep coming back

"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter, I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret after climbing a great hill, one only finds there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended." ~ Nelson Mandela

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Facing Issues Differently

"We want to be great - immediately great - but that is not how recovery works." ~ Julia Cameron
Many of us in recovery, in this search for ourselves as we allow our children to find their way out of addiction, many of us are examples of contradictions. We are procrastinators and perfectionists. We are dreamers, yet fearful of what success may bring. As we let go of so many "musts," "have to's" and other controls we had placed upon our addicted children we just cannot seem to give that gift to ourselves.

When we are in the deepest chasms of our childrens' spiral into addiction we do our best facing almost daily bad reports from the school, early morning calls from police, the screaming, confrontations, catatonic mornings leading to missed school - the nightmare that becomes our lives. We deal with the nightmare in the only way we know. We return the volleys from our children with equal control, force, threats and confrontation intensified.

The moment we begin our recovery is often etched indelibly in our minds. This is the moment when our sons' and daughters' addiction had us beaten. We were laid bare. We had nothing more.

As Tom Hanks' Chuck Noland said in Castaway, "(We) had power over NOTHING!"

It is a powerful lesson and an equally powerful image from the movie, this feeling of powerlessness that falls over us when we are defeated. We have nowhere to go but outside ourselves.We cannot force the issues that interfere with our recovery progress any more than we can compel our children to take the steps to begin to live lives free from drugs and alcohol.

So where do we go for help? We are taught always to look within. We are taught to draw from the power deep inside ourselves to pull ourselves out of whatever abyss into which we have fallen. This may work on the field of play, but we're not talking about a soccer match or baseball game here.

We're talking about our lives.

Instead of looking at what is "deep within" we can visualize a Power outside of ourselves, greater than ourselves, a loving, gentle Power and say to this entity, "Please, take this burden off my shoulders." We can then in our visualization give these burdens, little by little, to this Higher Power.

We can call this Higher Power God, Universe, Great Creator, Nature, Mother Earth, Great Spirit, or we can simple imagine a force, a presence out there that is greater than ourselves. We can take this small or large leap of faith so we may begin to bring at least, at the beginning of this process, a semblance of sanity onto our lives.

We're not ignoring the issues that have us blocked. We're simply acknowledging and facing them in a different way. We cannot do battle against this disease. We need help, a Partner.

It's freeing. It is letting go. It is not doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result - and we all know what that is!

If we're not careful this not-forcing-the-issues thing will reach into our lives outside our recovery. Like a walk through a forest we've been countless times, for once, when we put our day-to-day struggles aside and for once, allow ourselves to become fully immersed in the moment of that walk, we notice things we never saw or could never have seen before. We see opportunities, chances, angels, that can and are willing to lead us along our path to recovery, to living our lives. We may, when we're ready, take advantage of these opportunities and allow these angels to show us the pathway with their light, their blessed guidance.

And as we walk this proverbial trail we will begin to look for and strive to find those special sightings for which days, months or years before we not ready. In magical moments some will jump out at us like deer often do, refusing to be ignored as a not so gentle reminder of where we are traveling, the beauty of our journey we had up to this point refused to see.

It is a amazing thing, one of those counter intuitive moments we can experience if we let go of our need to control, force and manage. The Universe will come through for us if we are willing to get out of the way and see the opportunities for recovery all around. As I mentioned once to a mentor about my recovery, "It's scary and exciting at the same time."

Aptly put I must say by a fearful procrastinator perfectionist dreamer.

Now getouttatheway!

… keep coming back

Friday, June 6, 2014


Written at the end of August 2013, I am readying this blog on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, D-Day, June 6, 1944. How's that for synchronicity ...

"Freedom from means freedom to." ~ Al Anonymous from One Day At A Time
A while ago I was treated to a talk about courage. I often doubt my own. We all do. We all doubt that when needed, we will have the true courage to do what is right for us, our children and others who love us. This true courage is the courage that is authentic to our journey, not the bombastic bravado we had exhibited in the past as controllers, ragers, fixers and perfectionists.

I really needed to hear this talk. That evening provided me with one of the God-moment Universal reminders that we all will receive when we truly need them. These reminders from the Great Creator are very often presented to us and are there for us to accept if we allow it - if we are open to the possibilities.

This evening we all travelled the speaker's parental journey with an addicted son, a son so beautiful, intelligent and lost. This talk hit home. This parent's chid, like mine, is a 14-year-old trapped in a much older body, the effect of years of marijuana addiction.

When I reflect on courage what comes to mind are the soldiers along Highway 1 in Afghanistan, our local police, firefighters and reservists who could be called up at any time.

What we do as parents of addicts on a daily basis to take care of ourselves is similarly courageous as those heroes mentioned above. We all, we band of brothers and sisters in whatever struggle we embrace mix bravery and resolve with self preservation to push through, to persevere, to emerge not unharmed but alive and victorious. The speaker that evening in fact repeatedly mentioned the word "resolve" and I took this as my personal message from the evening.

Resolve is a major player in any courageous act. Resolve implies intent and as a noun has as much action inherent in its meaning as any verb you can imagine. When we say "I resolve" we go beyond a pledge or promise. Resolve is personal.

We don't make New Year's resolutions for someone other than ourselves. So why do we attempt this for our children?

The origin of the word "resolve" from the Latin solvere meaning "loosen" had somehow morphed over the centuries until in the 1590s when it had settled into today's interpretation to mean a determination, firmness of purpose.

For parents of addicted children I feel the original meaning, the Latin, has more power.

When we master the courage to accomplish anything in our lives there are often many burdens we must loosen, shed, and jettison to succeed. A personal thing, resolve cannot be thrust upon others any more than we can will someone to breathe or command someone's heart to pump.

We've all become comfortable in our little spaces. It requires courage to let go of the burdens and shackles that have kept us stuck in our foxholes, hiding within our fears, secure in our seclusion. We even use our children as an excuse to avoid making those courageous decisions that will move us forward at a time in their lives where they could benefit from seeing us changing, living, growing and getting on with our lives.

The disease within our addicted children is the true enemy we are up against and would like nothing more than to see us stuck, mired and stymied. It's time we break through the line and take the battle to the disease.

There are many areas of our lives where we can resolve to let go, to loosen, to break apart from in order to live our lives completely and fearlessly. It requires courage to face our fears, let them go, hand them off to something outside ourselves and to do something to combat what has kept us pinned down far too long. Here's a short list of some of the paralyzing fears, character tendencies and future uncertainties we have all certainly comforted ourselves with from time to time:
Fear of the unknown, fear of success, fear of failure, SHAME, projections of doom, money issues, loss of connections with family and friends, procrastination, fear of loss, self pity, unresolved anger
So we can resolve to live our lives, to bring courage to our journeys and make it an active, personal decision. We can make our lists, keep moving forward and start loosening the grip these roadblocks have put in the way of our happiness.

 …  keep coming back

"Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely." ~ General Dwight D. Eisenhower's message to the troops just prior to the Invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944