The epitome of the OYA Community is having parents and professionals come together to share experiences, offer resources and provide hope. This is what that looks like in my home-town community. What’s happening in your community? Let’s collaborate and share content to address the issue of substance use among young people.
Early in our son’s addiction journey, I was having a conversation with the parents of another kid who was using drugs with our kid. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “What are you going to do?” In essence, she resigned herself to believing there was NOTHING she could do to stop her son’s use and its devastating effects.
I was flabbergasted the first time she said this. A few years later, she said it again. Oh my.
On the flip side, my husband and I were proactive and vigilant from day one – from the day we noticed he was struggling (and not yet using). To the day we discovered he was using. To the day we got him to treatment (the first time). To the day he ran away and relapsed. To the day … To the day … To the day …
We were committed to understanding and helping him from the first day and every day after that until he ultimately chose sobriety and committed to recovery. It was not an easy path for him or for us – addiction never is, and it impacts each and every family member and friend.
Some days, I wished I could stop thinking about the situation, and I’m sure there were lots of days that family and friends wished I would stop talking about our son’s addiction. Come on, get over it, right? Nope.
Instead, we interpreted and lived by the ever-famous Serenity Prayer, with our own family-friendly practice of it.
Why? Because I was resolute in believing that NOTHING was not an option. That SOMETHING would work. That there was PLENTY that we could do.
Years later, that mom is still convinced there is nothing she can do. Her son is still struggling with addiction and mental health, and she and the rest of her family are suffering from co-dependency.
So what can a parent do? Here are some thoughts on how you might answer the question: “What are you going to do?”
Talk about it. Addiction is a heavy subject, so keeping a loved one’s addiction to yourself will take its toll. As soon as you share with someone what you’re dealing with, you’re likely to find out that you are not alone and that they have experienced something similar. That’s just how widespread and rampant addiction is – just about everyone knows someone who has struggled with it. So open up and see where the conversation goes. Chances are you’ll feel better, and as soon as you start feeling better then everyone connected to you – including your young addict – will reap the benefits.
Learn about it. As you talk about addiction, you’ll start learning more. The conversation will probably lead you to resources – places to call, websites to check out, programs to visit, books to read. There is no shortage of information out there about addiction. Most of it’s good, solid information. Take in as much as you can and you’ll begin to figure out what’s true and helpful for you and your situation. All this knowledge will empower you to make better decisions as you continue to experience your loved one’s addiction. It will never hurt to be a bit smarter about something as complex as addiction.
Collect resources. Through all this talking and learning, you will find many resources. Explore each one. Sometimes it may seem that a resource has little to offer you, but in the months and years ahead, the situation may change and an initial resource may become just the thing you need. I kept a notebook with me at all times to write down names, numbers, organizations, URLs and more. It was helpful to have these resources available during our journey, and often in future conversations I would be able to pass along details to others who needed the information. I also plugged a lot of information into the notes application on my phone so that I always had the info I needed at my fingertips. Let me tell you, this saved us many times when chaos and crisis ensued.
Pay attention. Addiction is progressive. That means that things continue to change. Sometimes the changes are subtle, barely noticeable, but keep your five senses alert. What do you see? Smell? Hear? Feel? Taste? And do not forget about the sixth sense, what I refer to as Mom Radar – what do you feel in your gut? These are the clues that keep us tuned into what is happening with our young addict, and are the ones that keep us ready for whatever happens next. (See a blog post about The Five Senses: https://ouryoungaddicts.com/2015/04/07/the-nose-knows-a-common-sense-guide-to-recognizing-drug-and-alcohol-use-among-young-adults/)
Take notes. Because so much happens so quickly, write it down or you will forget it. Also, our young addicts are often manipulative, lying and stealing. Sorry, yes, this is what addiction does to them. To keep my own sanity, I would write things down. Dates. Details. Conversations. Etc. It’s amazing how addiction days and nights all start to run together, so having notes helped me when we were talking with counselors and treatment professionals – this way I had context and facts instead of fuzzy, emotionally-laden recollections.
Set boundaries. All of the tips above may have you thinking that you have to be immersed in your kid’s addiction 24/7/365. In a way, yes; in many ways, no. You’ve no doubt heard about setting boundaries, and let me say, this is 100 PERCENT NECESSARY. Determine what is best for you, your marriage, your family, your kid, your situation and set clear boundaries. These may change from time to time, and that’s OK, but always be clear about what you’re willing to accept and do or not do.
For our family, it was three simple things: 1) No drugs or paraphernalia allowed in our home, which also meant not being high at home 2) Keep family hours and sleep at home on weeknights – home by 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 3) Let us know by 10 p.m. on weekends if you’re not coming home. Your boundaries may be different, but given a younger child in the household plus two parents with job commitments, this is what we needed. Other boundaries had to do with what we would and wouldn’t pay for, no longer allowing our son to have a key to the house, and revoking his driving privileges. See, things changed along the addiction path.
Practice self-care. Likely, you’ve also heard about self care. Because addiction is 24/7/365, it is absolutely critical that you take care of yourself. Live your life. Find an outlet – something like Al-anon, a support group or therapist. And, by all means, pursue your interests – reading, exercise, a hobby, etc. These are refreshing and energizing. (See two blog posts about self care: https://ouryoungaddicts.com/category/self-care/)
Stay in touch, keep reaching out. Sometimes it’s hard to stay in touch with a loved one who is using. Perhaps they have moved out. Perhaps they don’t come home all that often. It’s incredibly hard to know if and when you’re going to see or talk to them. No matter what, staying in touch to the extent that you can is important. It lets your loved one know you are there and ready … when they are. Whether a post-it note on their bedroom door, a text message, a voicemail or stopping by some place that they hang out, always make an effort to connect with your young addict.
During one of the more intense periods in our son’s addiction, when he was exceptionally angry with us and in utter denial about his addiction, I decided the best thing I could do was text him his horoscope from the newspaper each morning! It was a benign message from mom. Sometimes he’d respond – and I’d know he was alive. Sometimes he’d tell me to knock it off – and I’d know I’d reached him even if he wasn’t receptive. Sometimes, and this was hard, he wouldn’t respond and I know I needed to prepare for the worst. Usually, however, he’d surface within a few days and I’d have a sigh of relief.
More importantly, we continued to reach out and include our son in family activities even if he chose not to participate. It let him know we cared and considered him a vital part of our family. (This seemed to be a key strength when he finally chose sobriety and committed to recovery – today, his family ties are as strong if not stronger than ever!)
Connect with others. Parenting a young addict is overwhelming, lonely, scary, intense … you name it. But you are not alone. Way too many of us have been on this path. Together, we can help each other forward. Find us in your neighborhood, your school, your church. Find us online with Twitter, Facebook and blogs. We are out there and if you ask, we will IMMEDIATELY embrace you because we know what it’s like.
Share your experience. Each day in, which seems like an eon, you’re a day wiser and a day stronger. Through your experience, you now have something to offer the next parent going through their kid’s addiction, so please, please, please, share your experience. Together, we can and will make a difference.
What are you going to do? PLENTY, that’s what!
©2015 Our Young Addicts All Rights Reserved
How do we know that another person is parenting a young addict? What signals do we give? Midwestern Mama explores the subtle ways we communicate and the important connections we make when we share that we know addiction.
Confession: As a high school student in the early ‘80s, I tried marijuana. It’s entirely possible but I may be the only person on earth to say I did not like it in the least. I actually tried to like it, but after a couple months of trying I gave it up declaring it just wasn’t for me.
That’s not say I didn’t continue to hang around high school friends who used marijuana regularly. It’s also not so say that I didn’t engage in some teenage and college drinking; for whatever reason, my “experimentation” was just that and it didn’t manifest as addiction in any sense.
Decades later, with a high school kid of my own, experimentation with drugs and alcohol went in a vastly different direction. My teenager became an addict almost immediately, and I gained a whole new understanding of substance use … addiction … mental health … treatment … relapse … recovery, and a whole lot more in between.
As much as I have learned, there remains so much I do not know – in general as well as specific to my son’s experience. Most of the unknowns I have accepted. The past is the past. I do, however, have curiosity and I have to remind myself whether that knowledge has any great purpose. I also realize, that the missing pieces may reveal themselves at some point in the future, if my son chooses to share and if it’s meant to be.
Even still, I have questions. For example, even for the extent to which I experienced drugs, personally and vicariously through my son, one thing I never figured out is the communication style that drug users use. How do they determine if someone else is a user? How do they find out if someone has something to share or sell? What is the language and what are the signals that that they use?
I may never know these things and I’m OK with that. It’s interesting, but not particularly useful. Save for sharing knowledge with other parents and as my son continues in recovery, I hope I never need to know the language or signals.
It occurs to me, however, that parents of young addicts also develop a language and set of signals.
Just the other day, I met a former colleague for coffee. As we caught up on careers, she mentioned that her 17-year-old son had given them some “challenges” the past few years. That’s an ambiguous statement. It doesn’t specify anything yet neither does it invite nor discourage any follow-up questions – unless you are a completely nosy person or a parent who has experienced your own ambiguous “challenges.” Instead, the ambiguity either goes without notice or it hangs there waiting to see if the other parent will pick up on something.
Acknowledging that we’d had challenges with our son in recent years, I gently asked if she cared to share what kind of challenges.
Quietly but without hesitation, she said, “Addiction.”
And, without hesitation, I said, “Oh my goodness, my son, too,” adding – to give her hope, “he’s now one year sober.”
You can imagine the rest of the conversation as we shared our experiences. It was refreshing to connect with another parent who understood what it’s like to have a young addict in the family. We listened to each others stories, empathized and validated feelings, and we exchanged ideas on what had worked and what hadn’t. All of a sudden, we had a new appreciation for each other and a renewed sense of our parenting roles not to mention additional hope and belief in the possibility of recovery for our sons.
What’s interesting about this scenario is that it is increasingly common. It seems I’m having this conversation more and more often. A part of me is glad that we are talking about our kids’ addiction and connecting rather than going it alone. At the same time, a part of me is sad that there is a seemingly rising number of families dealing with young adults substance use – too many kids are using and becoming addicted.
It got me wondering about what is the language and what are the signals that someone is parenting a young addict? I always used the phrase, “our son is taking a detour right now.” This was a nice way of saying, he was not doing what other kids his age were doing ,i.e., he’s not in college, he’s homeless, he’s addicted to drugs including heroin, he lies and steals, he sells his plasma to get money for food and drugs.
Yuck, who wants to say those things even if they are true? Instead, we test the waters with a catch phrase. Some people don’t pick up on the ambiguity and the conversation proceeds without addressing it. Other people do pick up on it, and it’s an opportunity for them to choose whether to engage.
The language and signals may be invisible to most people, but to parents who have been there or are still there with their kids, these are an opportunity to connect.
©2015 Our Young Addicts All Rights Reserved