The Key to Dealing with My Son’s Drug Addiction–Setting Boundaries for Myself
Ron Grover, pictured here, wrote this wonderful article about boundaries:
"I am a hard-headed stubborn guy with the propensity to be a control freak. (I hope there are no other fathers out there like me who are dealing with an addicted child.) It took me a long time to learn that my anger was a result of me not being able to control my son’s addiction. Eventually I learned that, at most, I have a small measure of influence with him. And the only real control I have is over my own self.
When Mom and I first began this nightmare of addiction we heard about boundaries. In my mind that was an easy one. Rules are rules; follow the rules and there would be no trouble. But I learned the hard way — addicts have no concept of rules and how they provide structure to society. If parents of an addict rely upon a set of rules to manage their addict’s behavior, they will live in an angry and frustrating world.
My famous directive to my son — and it was usually delivered at the top of my lungs — was: “No Lying, No Stealing and No Drugs. JUST WHAT THE HELL IS SO HARD ABOUT THAT?!!”
I am finally beginning to understand, “just what the hell was so hard about that.” This has caused me more anger and frustration than just about anything else I’ve dealt with about his addiction. With me, anger and frustration nearly always dissolved into me hollering at him and anyone in the vicinity, resulting in more anger and hurt for all. In a hurting family, that is the last thing you need – hurt compounded upon hurt.
I have learned that there is a big difference between rules and boundaries. Rules are easy. Rules are set and everyone follows. Boundaries are not rules. Boundaries help direct your universe when the rules do not apply or are not relevant. My lack of clear boundaries for myself gave me permission and allowed me to justify enabling my son’s drug use. This has probably prolonged his addiction. This is a regret I live with every day.
Boundaries are healthy for you and those surrounding you. I cannot change my addict’s behavior by setting rules. Any success for me in dealing with my son’s addiction is a result of setting good boundaries for myself.
I choose where I want to go – I no longer allow my addict to take me where he wishes to go. In a simplistic form, I can make a rule directed at my son that he cannot use drugs in my home. The reality is that he is an active addict; he will use drugs in my home. I will become angry because he violated my rule. I have a right to be angry, right? Did it make anything better or change anything? No, we are still at square one. I am angry that he is using drugs in my home, and I feel out of control and helpless. He is feeding his addiction. All of this happens because I am trying to control something over which I have no control.
But I can establish a boundary – like this: I do not wish to live in a home were drugs are being used illegally. This actually puts everything on me; there is really no reason to become angry. I now have complete control of the situation and I have several options. I am not trying to control him. I get to decide on the actions in my life.
Boundaries must be set after much calm and reasoned thought. Setting boundaries with my addict in the heat of battle resulted in failure every time. Especially because those “boundaries” (really rules) I thought I was setting were being hollered at him and not being set for me. If you are setting boundaries for yourself and using a calm deliberate approach, success can be more easily achieved and you can control your own actions. That works well with the control freak in me. I set my boundaries to match my values.
To be clear, I do not see boundaries as a solid impenetrable barrier like the Berlin Wall, with heavy life-or-death consequences. I see the boundaries that we set for ourselves more like a rope line. There is a clear demarcation of where we decided we should not go and there is self-imposed security to make sure we know there are consequences for crossing the line. But there may be circumstances that necessitate crossing the line and there may be consequences that you or your loved one has to pay for that crossing.
For example, Mom and I have set a boundary about not visiting in jail because jail is punishment. But, our son is in jail and we went to visit him. Why would we go visit and violate our own boundary? Actually, we went for Mom. Mom had been having bad dreams about Alex and in all of her bad dreams Alex was with all of her dead friends and relatives. She was troubled by this. I’m not sure if she puts much stock in that sort of thing as a premonition or something but she was worried. I just look at it as a dream, but it troubled mom so that troubled me. We visited Alex in jail and the visit calmed her worries and she could once again sleep peacefully. If there are consequences to stepping over our boundary we shall deal with them when and if they arise.
Setting good boundaries for yourself allows you, the loved one of an addict, to bring a measure of control and sanity into a truly insane situation."