Scottie's Mom Had Opinions But Not The Facts
I am the Mother of an addict. Like many who hear about or personally experience the ravaging effects of addiction, I needed some serious convincing to accept that substance use disorder is a “disease.” In fact, I was pretty self-righteous about it. I told myself you don’t see a cancer patient or diabetic stealing from the jewelry box of a family member, or damaging the people that love and need them. I didn’t have an informed understanding of what was happening. I was certain I could outsmart and consequence my son out of addiction.
Addiction Knows No Consequences My Way Didn't Work
I was the sharp tongue’d, correct-handling, consequence-forcing, perfect model of a non-enabler. I was a very hard sell, but I have come to believe my son’s addiction is a disease and I am powerless over it. Similar to how someone diagnosed with a heart condition needs to make serious lifestyle changes, an addict must renovate their entire life in order to arrest and recover from the diseased thinking and cravings that began with the choice to pick up their particular substance in the beginning. Brain chemistry changes once someone becomes gripped and that is often innocently done, based on injury or falling under influence. It can and it does happen to anyone. Mom's want to , but can't fix this problem.
Brain Out Of Its Owner's Control Is Also Out Of My Control
I have learned that brain chemistry becomes diseased during substance abuse; causing need and craving to bypass their love of family and often ethics. People raised to know better can become desperate and criminal. Needing their next fix as much as their lungs need oxygen. Only the substance abuser can choose the road to recovery. We can help idtentify that path, but we cannot control it. I have never understood this more than after witnessing a relapse.
My son Scottie went into recovery 3 years ago but had two relapse setbacks, each with a worse set of circumstances. Relapse hurts more each time. I had to cope with that. Once we start to get our lives back on track and a substance abuser begins to recover, relapse can feel more crushing than the first diagnosis. We hope they’ve sobered up once and forever. I have since realized that relapses can be part of the recovery journey, and that the addiction is not about me.
Substance Abuse Feels Personal But It Isn't
Relapse is not a personal attack on me. Addiction is defined by the Association of Addiction Medicine as a "chronic relapsing brain disease." If you have a chronic any disease, you have to take your treatment seriously. And I had to take my recovery seriously. The most valuable thing I learned is how to separate my peace of mind and detach my well-being from Scottie's roller coaster life. Sure there will be triggers and it’s all painful and terrifying. But I don’t have to live in the ups and downs or run alongside the craziness of anyone else’s choices.
Equanimity: Mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.
I learned a new word. In the midst of my son’s relapse, I stepped out of the storm. I found my own peace and serenity and discovered what has become my favorite word. Equanimity. I compare equanimity to trying to do a quiet activity like read, sew or meditate while a loud jackhammer tears up the sidewalk outside your window. I had to learn how to calm myself and separate from the noise and chaos as it’s happening. It is possible! But it takes decision and discipline. I often found when my son would call me in a panic over problems or stress my mind would begin to triage his issues for him, almost like a reflex. Instead of considering the fact that maybe I’m not supposed to handle it. Very counter intuitive for a parent! But when you are dealing with the disease of addiction, life has to be handled completely different. We can’t jump into the stress with them. You can love someone without taking on their problems.
How To Take Control Of Your Own Life
After Scottie's relapse I had to let go. I took more classes and learned more ways of handling my role as the Mom of an addict. What I do when stress erupts:
1. I Calm Myself With Breathing
I remind myself to turn to my breath for a moment. I take a step back in the midst and inhale a 4 count breath, hold it for 2 counts and exhale it for 4 counts. I do this five or six times. This breathing technique floods peace and oxygen to my extremities and sets my brain on neutral just long enough that I don’t rush into madness with anyone. If I’m still surging with adrenaline I will take a walk alone or with my dog before I allow myself to react or make any decisions.
2. I Use The 3 C's To Stay Grounded
I Didn't Cause It: At this point blaming who, what, where, why and how the addiction started or why relapse occurred is futile. This train of thought only adds to the misery and distracts from handling it in functional, healthy ways. This pertains to past, present as much as potential substance abuse. I can’t live in fear that by saying/doing the wrong thing I will send him spiraling back into the cycle. I am not the cause of that. Someone who wants to remain clean will do so regardless of stress or pressure. There will always be stress and pressure! The key is learning to cope without abusing a substance. And that is up to them to develop. Emotionally tiptoeing around someone won’t prevent substance abuse any more than bulldozing and bullying will. Working a program is the way forward. I take care of myself. My priority is to make sure I’m healthy and functional. My health and wellness helps my son choose health and wellness. Participating in the dynamics of his addiction does not.
I Can't Control It: Policing and making sure they are going to meetings, spending time with sober companions, doing what they are supposed to should only be something paid attention to for your own safety and boundaries. Taking control of their life, recovery or participating in the craziness as it occurs is not healthy for anyone.
I Can't Cure It: Nothing I can do, say, think, or feel will heal or cure it. I can affect his decisions with healthy boundaries, prayer and faith, by not enabling or participating. And by taking care of myself. Other than that…it is up to him to want it, to work a program and to recover.
Recovery Is For The Whole Family
Scottie and I both went through recovery this time. Simultaneously yet separately. He turned his life back over to treatment and recovery. I found individual peace and equanimity in the eye of his storm. I wholly accept the truth that I can no more control his decisions, navigate his life or prevent his death when it comes to addiction than I can control him getting into a fatal car accident. All I can do is live gratefully and peacefully within each day. Be the best me I can be and have a healthy relationship with my son and anyone else in my life. It is up to him choose the same. And that is relief beyond words! My son is clean and sober again, doing the work on and for himself. That could change again. But I refuse to live in the fear of it. I choose instead live in peace and in the present.
Detach With Love And Take Back Your Own Identity
I love and cherish my son. I want Scottie happy, healthy and OLD! But I am not the author, creator or controller of life. I am not the Higher Power by any means nor do I get to call the shots when it comes to how it unfolds. Scottie's life and recovery may not play out like I expect. In fact, most of life doesn’t go according to my exact plans! I’ve made peace with that. That is where I remember to let my faith take over versus my fear. At one time I thought the happy ending of our story was how “Scottie’s Mom” who spent 20 years researching behavioral science took a strong, healthy, non-enabling approach to his addiction and caused him to get sober and live well. Now I know nothing could be further from the truth. Even my “healthy,” strong tactics couldn’t save him. I was still enmeshed and participating! I may have helped direct him toward sobriety, but I had no power over it otherwise. The relapse part of our story puts to rest both blame or heroic rescue having any control over my child's painful addiction. I had done every possible textbook thing and beyond yet still I was not able to cause, control or cure his way left or right! I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I will never cure it. I can only contribute in healthy (or unhealthy) ways and I can cope with it. Scottie has to choose recovery for himself and that is when recovery works. The stronger and healthier I am…the better chance he has of choosing healthy for himself. And so finally, with a healthy, un-enmeshed relationship with my son, instead of always answering to “Scottie’s Mom,” you can call me Mindy.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Recovery Today magazine