Chaos and confusion reigned during the early years of my son’s addiction. We were at our wits’ end trying to figure out what to do and seemed to be making a lot of bad decisions.
I often thought how great it would be for parents to be pre-wired with the knowledge of exactly how best to deal with this crisis; perhaps an upper division parenting class to teach us exactly how to manage drug and alcohol addiction. We’d be able to walk a straight path through the insanity of addiction, conquering our fear and mastering the lessons of letting go, forgiveness, detachment and expectation. Then we’d slide right into serenity with a sober son.
Well, I didn’t get a chance to take that class and I doubt anyone else did either. All I was armed with was my keen parental instincts, which were completely worthless, and an overwhelming desire to rescue my son at any cost.
When my son first arrived at New Life House, I remember the manager giving me this all-knowing look and gently suggesting I start attending Al-Anon meetings. Who, me? Wasn’t I handling this appropriately? So what if I was concerned that my son wasn’t getting enough vegetables in his diet. Or that I called management on a Saturday night when I found out he had a cold. Or being distressed that he wouldn’t be able to turn around his character flaws. Or decompensating when I learned of plans to move him out of the house much earlier than I thought appropriate. Or fearing for his life when he didn’t return my text messages. I was FINE! …what was management so worried about?
But I did as I was told and tried a few Al-Anon meetings. I labeled the first one “Mega Meeting.” It was a huge group filled with “experienced” parents who seemed to have mastered the principles of Al-Anon parenting. I felt intimidated and afraid I’d say something Al-Anon-wrong so I chose not to speak at all. Not a good fit. The second meeting was “Nightmare on Elm Street.” I left trembling from the horror stories of drug cartels, prostitution rings and street violence. I’ll never forget that meeting as long as I live. Not a good fit. But as they say, the third time’s the charm. A new meeting was starting up close to my home. It was a small, intimate group of parents with similar struggles in various stages of recovery. It was a perfect fit. Lesson learned: when Al-Anon asks you to try at least six meetings, there is a good reason. With a little effort most of us can find the right place to settle in.
Al-Anon became my classroom for learning a healthier approach to my son’s addiction and a path to my sanity. Twelve Step was the textbook and we learned from each other. Each chapter introduced concepts I needed to understand – enabling, letting go, living in the moment and controlling fear. Unfortunately, you don’t master this stuff in a day. It will always be a work in progress, especially when dealing with our children. But progress is the key word here.
To accelerate my progress I wanted to start working on my own 12-step program as I’d heard other parents do the same. The leader of my Al-Anon group graciously invited me to join her in this effort. Today there are four of us in our group of “step sisters.” We are slowly and deliberately working our way through the steps. We’re understanding why we are “powerless over addiction” and are trying our best to let God take over the control seat by “turning our will and lives over to His care.” It is quite freeing. And it is giving me the strength to allow my son to finally manage his addiction on his own. Now I have a special appreciation for the depth of soul-searching my son plunged into that resulted in the remarkable positive changes in his beliefs and behavior. I can only hope to accomplish a fraction of that kind of positive change.
Not only did I find guidance on how best to help myself and my son, I finally found a group of parents that understood this struggle. My poor friends and family… they’d been there for me through years of confusion and torment. I knew I was burning them out on this problem and could imagine them dreading my calls, not because they didn’t care but because they just didn’t know what to say.
Though the Al-Anon group in my neighborhood and the Al-Anon parents group at New Life House on Saturdays, I found real empathy and understanding. These parents GET IT. You could see it in their eyes. They knew what to say and when to listen. I asked for and received constructive criticism and healthy guidance. They do not tire of the topic of addiction, in fact, we find it hard to stop talking about it. I come to the meetings sometimes scared and confused and usually leave stronger and wiser. And these parents are in it for the long run with me; we all know this is going to be a lifelong extension course.
When responding to a situation with my son, management at New Life House will now actually say: “I can tell you’ve been going to Al-Anon.” Really? I did it right this time? This usually means I stepped back from my usual parental panic, took a deep breath, reflected for a moment on an Al-Anon principle and then responded to the situation at hand. I’ve been doing my homework. And most times it results in my getting out of the way to let my son and his program work out the situation on their own.
“Let go and let God.” He’s got this….you can hand it over now.