Thursday, July 17, 2014

Together We're Better

"It takes a village to raise a parent." ~ Patrick Benjamin
They say there is no manual for raising a child from infancy through adulthood. This is simply not true. There have been enough books written about child rearing to cover the north leg of St. Louis' Gateway Arch, top to bottom. My favorite was "What to Expect the First Year."

I was just never sure, day to day, what page my kids were on in their development.

With all the books, videos, podcasts and seminars available we all have only our own wits and life experiences to draw upon to escort our children from infancy into adulthood. As parents we are our own best navigators of how to guide our children, they are ours after all. We gain wisdom through media that offers personal parenting counsel to the masses but it is up to us to make the tactical decisions required for the major and minor progressions of our kids' upbringing.

So does this mean we are alone in this? I certainly hope not.

Parents of children who have fallen into addiction of any kind endure a more heightened feeling of aloneness than most traveling down the parenting road. We not only feel alone, we isolate with shame, guilt, despair and bitterness, the four horsemen of the apocalypse of families torn by addiction.

We convince ourselves we are the only parent in our community, city, county or state, who has a child who has become a pothead, heroin addict, meth head, cocaine addict or a slave to any substance or behavior. We know, logically, this is not true. At the same time, we're convinced it must be.

We ARE alone - aren't we?

There is an anecdotal statistic quoted by professionals who work with communities and coalitions to raise awareness about addiction. This is an assumption gleaned through years of experience working within those communities.
When we walk into a coffee house, restaurant, or any public place, more than half of the people we see have been directly "touched" by addiction in their families in some way. 
Convinced they are alone in this, many have chosen to do nothing about the visitation addiction has made on their lives.

At some point, we realize we can no longer live our lives in this way, afraid, shamed and isolated. We transition from a life of victimhood to a life of recovery.

The life of recovery becomes, eventually, a life of joy despite whatever muck our children invite us to enter. Joy may be found in many places. One place is a place called community.

Many of the parents we are introduced to through our children's school and sports activities eventually drift apart from families like ours that have been affected by addiction. Many of us have experienced this sad reality. We become that family, the family we had gossiped about before our sons and daughters spiraled.

If we are very lucky, there will be parents who will remain with us in support. We are surprised to learn these are those families we have seen at the restaurant for years, who have been touched by addiction but were never exposed. These families experienced the ravages of addiction alone for years. They confide in us quietly about siblings, cousins and parents who tore their families apart through enabled addiction. They know we are journeying down a courageous pathway. They have no conception of our struggles but can see a difference our journeys are making in our lives, in our relationships and how differently we parent our children who have not brought us to recovery.

Hold fast to these friendships. These are people who understand a bit of what we are experiencing - but only a bit. These are but acquaintances we encounter along our recovery roads. In many cases, they provide us with the initial impetus to embark, to plunge into the unknown that is recovery. These friends offer only encouragement, hopeful nods and best wishes as they pass. These parents, these friends are on much different journeys.

We must find that village where we can truly know, feel and believe that we are not alone in our journey. We know they're out there.

But where is everybody?

We can find our village in far away places, in parent weekends in wilderness camps and therapeutic boarding schools and exotic rehabilitation institutes, in local intervention programs and retreats that all provide structured recovery work.

We may not connect with all the parents in recovery we meet along our way but bonds joined in these settings can be our first leg up we receive in moving out of our personal chasms.

These villages are fleeting and nomadic. We come to realize that our journey doesn't end when our children are pronounced as fixed. Our journey is life long.

So where is that village where we can put down roots and build a life for ourselves as our children proceed along their own roads to recovery?

The following describes some real-world roadmaps to find those true kindred spirits, keeping in mind that this is not a site that provides any quick, easy or simplified answers or preaches ANY particular pathway for any parent - but our villages can be found.

Many of the recovery programs to which we have sent our children promote alumni coteries where parents may join together in their home towns. Local recovery organizations encourage parents to continue to attend parent meetings after the children have finished treatment. Some are 12-Step oriented, some are not. Al-Anon parent groups are almost everywhere and provide permanent, safe villages, bands of brothers and sisters of addicted children. There may even be local Meetups for recovering parents. These should be safe, comfortable (eventually) havens where we can share our pain, joy, experience, strength and hope. Be wary of excessive negativism. This is another's addiction attempting to pull us in.

But the villages are there if we want to find them. The villages are just over that horizon, beyond that hilltop or possibly, beyond that chasm on our journey. It may take time to find our village. The steps include admitting we are on a journey we can't travel in solitude, owning we have power over nothing in regard to our child's addiction and believing we are not alone and a gentle, loving family is out there waiting for us.

Finally, we need to want to never be alone anymore.

If we SEEK the good, we just might SEE the good and begin to fight for the caring support we've been missing for much too long.

… keep coming back