"Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom." ~ Hannah ArendtIt 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!
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.
"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