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Looking Back and Moving On
On a recent visit home after quite some time apart, my son “Elliot” and I did a dual interview to discuss our experience roughly five years ago with Substance Use Disorder (referred to as SUD, most of which is detailed in my book Unhooked).
With a list of questions from various parents and family members who have been affected by the opiate epidemic surging through homes across the nation, we sat down for a very real, open conversation.
In our interview conversation, Elliot gave his perspective as one who has been to the depths of darkness with this disease and I gave mine as a Mother who was deeply affected. We touched some on our background and story and then went right into the most intense dynamics we faced as a family.
Relapse occurs mentally long before it occurs physically.
When asked if he ever “hit bottom,” Elliot’s response was “Yes, several times and each time was worse than before. But life would then eventually come together again,” he explained, “things would level out and almost as if forgetting, I would drift back to that mindset again and find myself on track to another bottom.” Elliot explained that it wasn’t until he decided to live a life with different goals and began refocusing his thoughts toward staying on track that he began taking preventative steps to avoid circling back through and repeating dangerous cycles.
Family relationships will recover if you allow for time and forgiveness.
As is common when substance abuse has raged through a family, our family dynamics were a disaster for a while. Crisis tends to bring out whatever pathological “trash” (meaning; it causes everyone’s dysfunction to rise to the surface) lies dormant. There were hard feelings, bad blood and fractured communication on all sides.
Where we are today is a far cry from where we were then. Recovery is possible and I believe, it works best when everyone does individual work on themselves (therapy, relevant books, support groups etc). With time and compassion, we both began to realize that in the midst of some terrible circumstances, everyone was doing the best they thought they could do.
It’s not personal
Regarding stressful conflict, texts that get hateful, conversations that turn toxic and behaviors that involve betrayal, lying stealing etc. Elliot’s explanation related to a speaker he heard teaching from the book Choice Theory, written by William Glasser. The idea is that there are times we internally commit to choices. Sometimes we will commit to a choice even if it’s wrong, and drive it all the way home, believing it is the best choice, the only choice, in that moment.
When it comes to a Loved One committing to a wrong choice that is having terrible effects on others, Elliot’s suggestion was to not engage it, protect yourself, and back away.
When someone is deep in struggle with a dependency upon a substance, their thoughts are only on what they need to do to meet that need. Anyone they affect or argue with is either a steppingstone, a source, or in the way.
And that is exactly what the disease of addiction does. The mentality of your Loved One is not only unlike the person you know and love, it’s not intentional, but it is adversarial. SUD takes over the mind and will of the person struggling.
I had to realize, the less I make everything in life about me, the easier it is to logically deal with things.
Silence is excruciating
Some of our conversation covered when communication is cut off between the one struggling and the family at home. Those can be extremely frightening, painful times for a parent.
I asked my son to think of what he feels if his dog is out of sight, even for a few minutes and doesn’t respond when he calls for him.
Or…what happens when he can’t find his cell phone.
Those situations prompt frantic moments of panic and relentless searching. Now, multiply those feelings by a million to understand what a parent goes through when their child is lost, off in active addiction or perhaps has gone silent for days on end.
It is those emotions that drive our decisions to investigate, search you out, walk the floors, and “lose it” emotionally. These were the times that I had to absolutely prop myself up on my faith.
SUD is a crisis no family should have to become great at handling.
There are ways to go about it with sound, healthy judgment. But there is no way to become perfect at handling the crisis of addiction. The reality is, it’s a terrible disease that creates terrible circumstances, conflicts and emotion for anyone touched by it.
Don’t go crazy in the madness of it! That will solve nothing.
During the worst of times I literally became a detective, researching, spying, tracking people and chasing away anyone he was involved with. I even kept binoculars in my car!
Elliot made it clear this resulted in a huge breakdown in communication, furthering the breach of trust between us. It also caused him to go to greater lengths to find sources, involving much more risk and danger than usual.
Chasing him down, doing the crazy things, going mad in the midst of it – helped no one, solved nothing and didn’t cause anyone or anything to get better.
Had I put up healthy boundaries, enforced consequences, while maintaining a kinder, more logical position and then taken my hands off, we may have been better able to discuss solutions sooner than we did. Looking back, I did the best I could with the tools I had, we all did. If I had it to do again, I would have taken a softer (yet firm in healthy ways) approach and been fully equipped with the CRAFT method in place.
It took time for us both to heal from those days.
Elliot’s advice to those who are in their teens, 20s and 30s who may wrestle with SUD, regardless of how it began is that it life doesn’t have to be about leaning on a substance or who can party the hardest. “At the end of the day you end up sloppy and might be living down current choices for decades to come.”
Elliot’s words for anyone caught in the trap of active use who feels lost, alone, hopeless and like there is no way get out, “Please know there are thousands of hands out there ready to help you. You can find a meeting (NA, AA etc) taking place every day in your city. All you have to do is call, show up, reach out.”
His hope for families was to let them know, when he came to the end of every resource and had to become his own resource (meaning, lovingly cut off from all supply of money and housing), he had to find his own way. That is what drove him to the desire for sobriety, recovery and a healthy productive life.
We are all relieved with how far he’s come (and how far we’ve come as a family) these last four years.
I asked my son the other day when he was home, if it bothered him to go into old, familiar places or potentially cross paths with upsetting people there may have been previous conflict with. I wondered because those things tend to bother me. His response was “Not at all. Places don’t affect me anymore like they used to. As for people, I’m aware of energy and vibes, if they’re negative and rude, all it tells me is that the person hasn’t dealt with their issues. I’ve moved on.”
Once you heal and move forward, you really can be done with the residual effects.
We are aware of the work of recovery and its power in our lives in how completely our relationship has healed. A wonderful aspect of having gone through it is that due to the level crisis we reached, we dealt with our issues and then we put them behind us. There’s no elephant in the room today, or junk swept under the rug that we have to ignore when we sit down to dinner or have a visit. We live in the wholeness of the moment and celebrate life as it is now. Looking back only to learn and reminisce, but focusing forward on where we are now and what lies ahead.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
Never give up,
We have exciting news.
Annie Highwater's writings will appear regularly here on the Recovered Podcast website. Annie is Author of a memoir “Unhooked”. A mother’s story of Unhitching from the roller coaster of her son’s addiction. Annie shares how those experiences both helped and hindered what would be the hardest, most heartbreaking, challenge of her life-- her son’s addiction to opiates. - Mark
Unhooked book link:
her email - email@example.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/AnnieUnhooked/
Here is Annie's latest article:
How important is support? I believe nature reveals to us that we are meant to support one another along the journey of life. Dolphins for instance are known to work together to catch fish, save sick friends and play. Recently researchers have recorded the clever cetaceans 'talking' to each other in order to solve a complex puzzle. The discovery suggests dolphins use a language dedicated to problem solving. I read an observation report about one dolphin becoming paralyzed, when others saw that it was unable to swim, they gathered to form a bridge of support under it, carefully raising their injured friend to the surface for air.
Joshua Plotnik, a behavioral ecologist at Mahidol University in Thailand, and primatologist Frans de Waal, director of Emory University's Living Links Center, have shown through a controlled study what those who work with elephants have always believed: The animals offer something akin to human sympathetic concern when observing distress in another, including their relatives and friends. Elephants in another herd were once found solemnly gathered in a circle, weeping together over the body of a one of their herd who had died.
Along with dolphins and elephants; gorillas, dogs, cats, certain corvids (the bird group that includes ravens) and squirrels among others in nature, have been shown to recognize when a herd mate is upset, weakened or injured and to offer gentle caresses and chirps of sympathy, according to a study (published February 18 in the online journal PeerJ) .
In nature, lending comfort and support seems to come, well…natural.
Some years back I personally observed comfort and support from nonhumans when my beloved Cairn Terrier injured her spine, became paralyzed and went through major corrective surgery. She recovered, yet never regained full strength. For the next 4 years of her life I tended to her every need as my other dog and our cat watched over her closely. They stuck by her, ever present at her side, especially when she grew weaker or sick. I often found them sleeping one on each side of her, laying close against her.
When she later died, for months the two of them would sit with me in every room I was in, something they hadn’t done together before. Everyday they would lay at my feet, one on either side as I worked my way through the sadness and misery of losing my closest companion. That little dog had been like a baby to me, because of her many health issues I took care of her like a child. In some ways, caring for her had even become a distracting comfort when my son moved across the country, losing her was a traumatic shock. I was touched by how aware of my grief my remaining two seemed to be. Their loyal presence helped me get through that difficult time. Animals somehow sense when we are in need of extra comfort.
Not long ago I read that Redwood trees have surprisingly shallow roots compared to other trees. Redwood trees are some of the tallest, strongest trees, yet they have short roots that grow more wide than deep. However, these roots have an amazing ability to latch onto one another, growing tightly together as a strong force underground. The linking of roots allows for added strength, causing several trees to unite as a whole, standing together as one when storms come.
I. Love. That.
Nature gets it. So if support and comfort is vital in nature; what message does that send to us?
What a beautiful thing if that kind of support came naturally in every family and group setting. How much different would our lives be if we instinctively came together to raise each other up, without considering fault, blame or shame, without thinking of our personal issues or awkward feelings. How wonderful would it be if we didn’t hold back, but instead showed up, with opinions and differences aside and offered comfort and encouragement, rallying around someone in need. How much stronger would we be when the storms come.
I’ve most often found unconditional support in rooms of recovery. Managing the adversities of life can feel crushing, especially when you feel like you have to do it by yourself. Having reliable group support can provide great comfort alongside challenging times.
For most of my life I’d taught myself to have a stiff upper lip and push through trials. Therefore, support was most often reserved for a small handful of friends, Google or the self-help section of the Library. It was by chance I started attending family recovery meetings. We had already come through so much of the storm by the time I started going. But once I went, I never left. Supportive meetings were the final puzzle piece in my walk forward, a perfect fit.
After experiencing the profoundly healing effects of attending a good, solid support group, I now admit I regret the nights I walked the floors alone, agonizing about our circumstances (as detailed in my book “Unhooked”). I regret not having a safe place to vent my frustration or hear how others coped when dealing with their own. How I wish I would have had a room to go to from the beginning of the journey, to gather with people going through what I was going through. I would have found safety in those numbers and strength from others who could say “Yep, I’ve been there. That happened to me too. You’re not the only one. I get it.”
I did have very good friends to call and I was lucky enough to personally know a few professionals who I could contact in a pinch. Yet had I also been rooted around those going through the same dark waters I was drowning in, I believe it would have made navigating my way through them a lot easier. There's just something about someone who has walked the same road telling you "It will be okay" that is truly worth its weight in gold.
We are some years past the havoc of addiction first raging through our home. But I still regularly meet with a group of support. Now that life is more calm and stable, I believe listening as well as giving comfort, encouragement and hope back is a great way to keep a stream of kindness flowing. No one should have to go through the harsh times of life alone. That's when we need others to build a bridge under us and raise us up, especially when we’re feeling paralyzed. There are also times we’re called to be part of that bridge and help lift someone else up. Support is give and take. We all need it, we all need to offer it.
It's not weak to admit you need some support, actually it's strong. It's real. And that's not always easy, it takes courage. Being real is not for the phony or faint of heart.
The epidemic of addiction that our nation is experiencing is not stopping, or even slowing down. I believe it's awakening us to our need to be open, honest and to compassionately support one another. Thankfully support groups are becoming more available. I strongly encourage everyone to research and find one that is a fit for you. Online or in person. We need all of it! Life can be brutal, it helps when you’re not alone. Support can make all the difference.
We need people to understand and care. That is where healing happens and strength develops. It's as simple as that.
“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” ~ C.S. Lewis
Rooting for you,
For online support:
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Tuesday night, I will be podcasting from my hotel room at Soaring Eagle Resort and Casino. I will be at a Winter conference for a business association.
Join me and keep me company as I try to carry a message of hope and recovery in the midst of free alcohol and gambling!
Let's talk about this solution.
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Keep me company and answer the following question(s):
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