There’s a phrase for the torment that you can’t talk about: disenfranchised grief. It was first defined by Kenneth J. Doka in 1989 as “grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned." Your heart is grieving, but you can’t talk about it to your friends because it’s considered unacceptable or tasteless or shocking. You’re sad, but the world doesn’t want to hear about it.
Examples of Disenfranchised Brief
· Religious Amanda, age 14, just lost the love of her life, her 15-yr-old boyfriend to her best friend. She feels betrayed, lost, hopeless, depressed, scared, angry, and sad. When her parents minimize her pain, telling her it was just “puppy love,” she wants to scream at them, “I gave up my virginity for this relationship!” But she doesn’t. They don’t understand the depth of her pain, so she puts on a smile and keeps it to herself.
· When my friend MaryAnn lost her soul mate to cancer, she cried nonstop for 14 days. On the 15th day, she packed away his belongings and went hiking, laughing and joking with old friends. “You’re in denial,” friends told her because they couldn’t believe that she could recover that quickly. Her grieving was different, and therefore, unacceptable to them. Two years later, she was still at peace with his passing and moving on with her life. What her friends didn’t understand that during the two years when she and her friend were fighting his cancer, she was learning to let go. Every month that he got worse, she slowly let go of him.
· When Elizabeth had her 4th miscarriage, her friends and family were used to it. But for her, the death of this fetus was also the death of hope that she would have a family. All the pain that she had been trying to dismiss for 8 years came tumbling out. Her grief was profound and prolonged. Friends couldn’t get her to “snap out of it,” as she had in the past. She became good at pretending, but spent many hours each day in bed crying.
· Everyone thought 10-yr-old Jodi was a quiet child. Sweet and shy, she kept to herself. What they didn’t know was that she couldn’t talk about her pain. When she told her alcoholic mother that her father was sexually abusing her, he was arrested and went to prison. Now she feels alone in the world because she is left with an alcoholic mother who pays little attention to her.
· Blaine was devastated when his wife of 50 years died in a car accident. Though family members extolled her virtues, they also told him that at least she had a long and productive life. “It was her time to go,” they told him. This didn’t help to ease his immense pain. He went into a deep depression and finally died two years later. His daughter says he died of a broken heart.
A Tale of Two Families
Betty and Jean, both single parents, were close friends and next-door neighbors for some 30 years. Two of their children were the same age, and Rob and James became close friends. They went to Sunday School together and helped each other to earn the badges leading up to Eagle Scout. When James received the “Hope of America” award in 6th grade, his mother Jean was proud and happy as was Betty. In fact, Betty was the first to jump to her feet in a standing ovation for him. When Betty’s son Rob received a basketball scholarship to college, Jean felt as much joy and pride for him as if it had been her own son James. They played sports together, did science projects together, and even double dated in high school.
When James was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in college, Betty spent many hours with his mother Jean in his hospital room. They prayed together, cried together, and Betty provided a good listening ear for Jean. Betty organized a charity fund through their church for her good friend’s son to get the necessary surgery to save his life. Despite valiant efforts and the best of surgeons, James died after a four-year battle with cancer. Jean was surrounded with love and sympathy from neighbors, friends, relatives, and their church community. It was one of the largest funerals that people could remember. Hundreds of flower arrangements were brought to the grave and Jean’s home. She had more casseroles than what she could eat in a month. And Betty stayed with her friend Jean to comfort her through torturous days of sorrow.
Shortly after losing his best friend, Rob learned of another, even greater loss. His father, who lived in another state, died in a motorcycle accident. He had always hoped to be able to move close to his dad so that he could get to know him better, and now that would never happen. In his grief, he turned to alcohol and drugs. When his grades fell, he lost his scholarship and his place on the basketball team. Things got worse when he was expelled from college and turned to pain killers. Rob died of an overdose two years to the day after James died. It may or may not have been accidental.
Sixteen people attended Rob’s funeral. Betty’s friend Jean came, but slipped out the back door of the church before the procession to the cemetery. No one seemed to know what to say to Betty. Unlike Jean, there was no outpouring of love from the congregation. Betty was alone in her grief and felt like she was going crazy.
That’s when she called me to talk about her son, her grief, and the craziness that she felt. I let her know that she had a right to her grief. She had a right to be comforted, affirmed, and validated. Her grief was real and raw. The lack of community support threatened to turn her grief into something bitter and ugly.
Apparently it’s all right to die of cancer. It’s not all right to die from drug abuse. At least that is what society would have us believe. But what about the person’s need to talk?
Therapists Will Listen
People turn to therapists for disenfranchised grief because no one else wants to listen. What a shame! People heal when they can talk about their pain. In fact, one of the most important factors in the resolution of grief is social support from others. Please know that you have the right to tell your story and indulge your grief—whether others want to hear about it or not.
One of the things that you may need to address eventually is that hidden reservoir of anger lurking just beneath the pain. As much as you may not be ready to do this, you will eventually need to forgive others for not being there for you when you needed them most. You’ll need to do this so that you can set yourself free from the bonds of resentment. Grieving is a process, and it wants a voice. You’ll need to do some talking or writing. In addition to that, you may want to give yourself the gift of some grieving rituals.
Although they vary by religion, culture, or region, healing rituals can help us to let go. You don’t have to spend money or be religious to have a ritual. Consider these:
Celebrate a Life. Much like a formal funeral, a private celebration can also be very powerful. Set up a time and space where you can celebrate the life of your loved one. Perhaps you’ll want to pick some special music, gather photos, write about your loved one or tell another person some special stories.
Create a Scrapbook or Video Slideshow. Several of my clients have done this and brought their scrapbook to therapy. I remember one client brought me her scrapbook each week for three months. She told me charming, lovely stories about her beloved cat who had recently died. We laughed and cried together while she told her stories.
Carry a Private Momento. It may be a photo, a ribbon, a postcard, or anything small that you can keep in a purse or briefcase. One client I knew wore a small heart necklace every day to remind her of her love. Several of my clients have gotten tattoos over their hearts.
Plant a Tree. Planting a tree in someone’s name can be public or private. It doesn’t even have to be a tree. It can be a flower, a bush, or even a potted plant.
Donate Your Time or Money to a Cause. Several people that I know have donated their time and efforts to causes that they support. It helps them to heal knowing that they are contributing something to the greater good.
Hang a Favorite Poem on the Wall. Maybe it reminds you of your loved one or what you had together. Perhaps it perfectly describes how you feel. Maybe it helps you to have hope.
Light a Candle. A client of mine says that she lights a candle every night to memorialize the past relationship that she can’t openly acknowledge. It’s enough for her to know why she is doing it.
Spread the Ashes. After a cremation, many people find solace in spreading the ashes in a treasured place—on the top of a mountain, in a body of water, or at a favorite place you both enjoyed.
If you’re grieving, talk. Grief needs an outlet. If you have no one to talk to, then write your feelings. Perhaps you’ll want to keep a private journal of your feelings.
If you know of someone who is grieving, then listen, listen, listen. You don’t have to say anything magic. Ask how the person is doing and then just listen without judgment.
Alex Lickerman, M.D., wrote an interesting article called "The Good Guy Contract." He had a habit of being a pleaser and couldn't stop, even when he wanted to stop. He writes, "The Good Guy Contract was simple; I would agree to be nice to you, to advise you, to sacrifice for you--and in return you would agree to believe that I was wise, compassionate, and excellent as a human being in every way. And, most importantly, you would like me." When he finally saw what he was doing, he stopped doing it. He's one of the lucky few who was able to stop immediately. We should all be that fortunate.
But, what's wrong about people pleasing, you say? It's nice to be nice. And we all enjoy being liked and loved. Here's the thing: people pleasers contribute to family dysfunction. They are the ones who come to therapy, confused about their teen's irresponsible behavior, depressed about their spouse's alcoholism, and anxious to fix somebody else. Their focus is always on someone else because that's the nature of their problem.
Take This Easy Test
1. Do you consider your own needs, wants, and desires in a relationship or are you more likely to put others' needs, wants, and desires first?
2. Does your self esteem suffer when you're criticized, even if the criticism is not true?
3. Do you have a habit of sacrificing your plans, desires, or needs in a caring relationship?
4. Do you often confuse pity with love?
5. Are you generally a conflict avoider?
6. When things go wrong, do you usually blame yourself?
7. Do you stay attached when most everyone else tells you that you need to detach?
8. When a relationship is dragging you down, do you still put the other person's needs or opinions first?
9. Do you have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility to the point that you think it's your job to fix others?
10. Early in your life did you learn to set your own feelings aside to care for others?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you're probably a pleaser. And that's not good. You may have been the unwitting contributor to relationship dysfunction. You may be prone to depression and/or anxiety because of your pleasing pattern. Rather than set limits and follow through with consequences, you may have decided to plead, nag, cajole, beg, threaten, or send guilt trips. And how is that working for you?
Tear Up Your "Good Guy Contract"
If you're a chronic people pleaser who can't stand to disappoint others when disappointing them is appropriate, then you have a great opportunity to become happier. As an added bonus, loved ones often get better when you stop your pleasing pattern. Boundaries and limits are more effective teaching tools. You'll learn to value yourself more as you make important changes. Dr. Alex Lickerman recommends the following:
- Assess your people-pleasing tendencies. Take the test and answer honestly. Ask a friend to give you feedback on the test.
- Practice disappointing people. Say no. Set limits. Write a script of how you're going to refuse a favor, and read it to someone else first. Try it out.
- Keep the payoff in mind. You're going to be happier in the long run. People will respect you more as you stop your pleasing pattern. And you'll be a lot more authentic.
Most pleasers do not give up their pleasing patterns easily. It often takes years to learn a new way of relating. Go to therapy and stay there until you make significant changes in your life. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries help to create healthy relationships. Think of them as a psychological fence between people: this is you, and this is me. We are separate. Our boundaries help to establish guidelines about suitable behavior and responsibilities. Boundaries build "win-win" relationships. I can be good to both you and me through healthy boundaries. If I close the door when I enter the bathroom, I am establishing a physical and psychological boundary: Closing or locking the door means I want to be alone when I’m in the bathroom.
Boundaries are essential if your loved one is an alcoholic or addict. As you claim your power with boundaries, you raise the likelihood that your loved one gets better. Boundary setting is absolutely essential when you're dealing with addiction, particularly teenage drug abuse.
Who needs boundaries?
Everyone needs to have healthy boundaries in relationships. There are three types of people who particularly need boundaries.
1. DOORMATS~Some people have been raised to believe that martyrdom, self-denial and incessant caretaking are righteous virtues to be practiced to the point of misery. When people are doormats, they allow others to take advantage of them.
2. ENABLERS~Then there are parents who want to make sure their children have everything they didn't get, and they protected them from every problem and emotion. It's the other side of the coin and it's just as bad. These people create a sense of over-entitlement, over-protection and inflated self esteem in their children.
3. PLEASERS~ Some people focus so much on pleasing others that they don’t focus on taking care of themselves. They avoid conflict, and have no sense of who they are, what they feel, need, want, or think. They take on the feelings of others as if they are their own. Sometimes they tolerate abuse or disrespectful treatment and can’t see the flaws or weaknesses in others.
Why have boundaries?
· Boundaries are important to help protect and care for oneself. If you’re not getting the respect that you deserve, take a look at your boundaries.
· Boundaries are also an important part of raising children. You can’t be a good parent without good boundaries. Not only do you value yourself as you establish boundaries, you're teaching your children to value themselves.
· Boundaries help you to define yourself. Without boundaries, you won’t know who you are, what you want, or how you feel.
· Boundaries help to minimize stress and conflict in a relationship. With clear boundaries, there’s nothing to argue about.
Telltale signs that you need better boundaries
· You’re constantly telling him what to do.
· You’re warning him about what will happen if he doesn’t do it.
· You’re bringing up the past of what he did wrong.
· You’re giving him solutions when he hasn’t asked for them.
· You’re preaching about what people should and shouldn’t do.
· You’re criticizing.
· You’re mind-reading.
· You’re sending guilt trips.
How Do You Set Healthy Boundaries?
Setting healthy boundaries involves taking care of yourself and knowing what you like, need, want, and don’t want. It also involves (1) going inside of yourself to figure out what you feel and then (2) clearly communicating that with the other person.
Examples of clear boundaries:
1. “Yes, I’ll be happy to drive you to the mall as soon as you’re finished with your chores.”
2. “I want to hear about your day. I’ll be free to give you my full attention in 15 minutes."
3. “You can borrow my CDs just as soon as you replace the one that you damaged.”
4. “If you put your dirty clothes in the hamper by 9:00 Saturday morning, I’ll be happy to wash them for you.”
5. “Can I give Jessica a message? Our calling hours are from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. I’ll let her know that you called.”
6. “I’m sorry; that doesn’t work for me. I won’t be loaning you money until you have paid me what I loaned you previously.”
7. “You’re welcome to live here while you’re going to college as long as you follow our rules.”
8. “I’m not willing to argue with you.”
9. “I’ll be happy to talk with you when your voice is as calm as mine.”
10. “I love you and I’m not willing to call in sick for you when you’ve been drinking.”
Boundaries need to be clear, specific, and clearly communicated. You may need to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it before doing so. Practice with someone else who can help you. Good luck!
Parenting an addict is a stressful job. This is a guest post by Ron Grover, pictured here. Thank you, Ron, for sharing your experience.
"When you first discover that your child is addicted to drugs your heart breaks and your stomach churns. What is happening, what did we do wrong?
Our reaction is very personal. As parents we take immediate ownership of this situation. We refuse to see this problem as it is, an addiction. We make excuses, we develop stories and, of course, we make plans to immediately correct this problem; all in an effort to control the situation. We look for someone to blame. Little do we know that this is an issue unlike anything we have ever experienced.
Addiction is not an accepted illness for many in our society uneducated about this disease. For too many people addiction continues to carry the stigma of a weakness of character. As parents of an addict not exposed to addiction we carried that stigma along with the guilt of our own questionable parenting skills. We cling to the belief that if our child would only make a choice not to use again; then this nightmare would be over and everything could go back to normal.
Parenting an addict is not something that is to be done alone. It is not something that should be done alone. This is a disease that touches all of those that love an addict or even casually come in contact with an addict.
As parents we hid what was going on with our son. We wallowed in self pity. We searched the internet for solutions, we read books and articles, no matter how much we searched and tried nothing seemed to work. Our son continued to use and we experienced more stress and more shame.
Finally in desperation it is off to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. It’s nearly impossible to say the word. As parents, we stumble, we hedge, we mutter, my son uses drugs. ADDICT: what makes it so hard to say, what makes it so hard to admit? As long as addiction carries a stigma of shame the healing for this disease will not begin for either the addict or the loved one of the addict.
My son is an addict. This statement is freedom but it is not free. To make this statement there is tears, there is heartache and there is a realization that my son is afflicted with a disease in which to date there is no cure.
By opening your life and admission to others you allow others to help you and your child. Something I have found to be absolutely true; those people that love you before your admission will continue to love you when you are able to open yourself up for help. In fact, by opening up I have found wonderful friends struggling with the same issue. Without their support and the support of our family I know we would not be in the position we are in today with our son.
The fact is, if we as individuals and even as a nation continue to treat addiction as our “dirty little secret” and not recognizie it as what it truly is, then we will forever struggle to provide the treatment an addict needs for his or her disease.
My name is Ron and my son is an addict."
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."
So often I've heard addicts say to me, "I'm only hurting myself." They don't understand that drug addiction hurts everyone, not just the addict or the addict's family. Let's look at some of the financial costs of drug addiction.
There are many costs--health care costs, crime related costs, health administration costs, lack of productivity costs, welfare costs, and birth defect costs, to name a few.
Drug abuse and addiction are a major burden to society
Estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States—including health- and crime-related costs as well as losses in productivity—exceed half a trillion dollars annually. This includes approximately $181 billion for illicit drugs, $168 billion for tobacco, and $185 billion for alcohol. Staggering as these numbers are, however, they do not fully describe the breadth of deleterious public health—and safety—implications, which include family disintegration, loss of employment, failure in school, domestic violence, child abuse, and other crimes.
These figures are from NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse).
The only thing that makes sense financially for the United States is prevention--beginning with the pregnant mother and for her child in preschool, elementary school and middle school. Every cost-benefit analysis of prevention vs. treatment points toward prevention.
Most of this article is from NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse)
Many people do not understand why individuals become addicted to drugs or how drugs change the brain to foster compulsive drug abuse. They mistakenly view teenage drug abuse as a parenting problem and may characterize those who take drugs as morally weak. One very common belief is that drug abusers should be able to just stop taking drugs if they are only willing to change their behavior. What people often underestimate is the complexity of drug addiction—that it is a disease that impacts the brain and because of that, stopping drug abuse is not simply a matter of willpower.It's a brain disease.
Through scientific advances we now know much more about how exactly drugs work in the brain, and we also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people stop abusing drugs and resume their productive lives.
What happens to your brain when you take drugs?
Drugs are chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. There are at least two ways that drugs are able to do this: (1) by imitating the brain’s natural chemical messengers, and/or (2) by overstimulating the “reward circuit” of the brain.
Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, have a similar structure to chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, which are naturally produced by the brain. Because of this similarity, these drugs are able to “fool” the brain’s receptors and activate nerve cells to send abnormal messages.
Other drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters, or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals, which is needed to shut off the signal between neurons. This disruption produces a greatly amplified message that ultimately disrupts normal communication patterns.
Nearly all drugs, directly or indirectly, target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that control movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system, which normally responds to natural behaviors that are linked to survival (eating, spending time with loved ones, etc.), produces euphoric effects in response to the drugs. This reaction sets in motion a pattern that “teaches” people to repeat the behavior of abusing drugs.
As a person continues to abuse drugs, the brain adapts to the overwhelming surges in dopamine by producing less dopamine or by reducing the number of dopamine receptors in the reward circuit. As a result, dopamine’s impact on the reward circuit is lessened, reducing the abuser’s ability to enjoy the drugs and the things that previously brought pleasure. This decrease compels those addicted to drugs to keep abusing drugs in order to attempt to bring their dopamine function back to normal. And, they may now require larger amounts of the drug than they first did to achieve the dopamine high—an effect known as tolerance.
Long-term abuse causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that influences the reward circuit and the ability to learn. When the optimal concentration of glutamate is altered by drug abuse, the brain attempts to compensate, which can impair cognitive function. Drugs of abuse facilitate nonconscious (conditioned) learning, which leads the user to experience uncontrollable cravings when they see a place or person they associate with the drug experience, even when the drug itself is not available. Brain imaging studies of drug-addicted individuals show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decisionmaking, learning and memory, and behavior control. Together, these changes can drive an abuser to seek out and take drugs compulsively despite adverse consequences—in other words, to become addicted to drugs.
Why do some people become addicted, while others do not?
No single factor can predict whether or not a person will become addicted to drugs. Risk for addiction is influenced by a person’s biology, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction. For example:
The genes that people are born with––in combination with environmental influences––account for about half of their addiction vulnerability. Additionally, gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other mental disorders may influence risk for drug abuse and addiction.
A person’s environment includes many different influences––from family and friends to socioeconomic status and quality of life in general. Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, stress, and parental involvement can greatly influence the course of drug abuse and addiction in a person’s life.
Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages in a person’s life to affect addiction vulnerability, and adolescents experience a double challenge. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier that drug use begins, the more likely it is to progress to more serious abuse. And because adolescents’ brains are still developing in the areas that govern decisionmaking, judgment, and self-control, they are especially prone to risk-taking behaviors, including trying drugs of abuse.
For the parents who mourn their children's choices, you will have to learn to re-direct your thoughts. Whether your kid is lost in addictions or has had self-destructive habits, you need to learn to lift yourself out of depression and anxiety.
Do you remember dreaming about your kid—even before birth? Wondering what he or she would be like? You faithfully went through all the stages of growing up with your child, tolerating tantrums, dirty diapers, spider collections, and heartaches. You did everything possible to be a good parent, attending school plays, parent-teacher conferences, play dates, and soccer matches. You spent lots of money on hobbies, activities, violin or karate lessons, the latest clothes, everything. You fell in love with this remarkable little human, knowing full well that your job one day would be to help him or her to grow wings and fly away from you.
When your child became a teen, the thought of your child going away one day didn’t seem quite so terrible. Perhaps this stage helps us to let go as our darling becomes more and more willful. I know it helped me to let go. So, what do you do when your child breaks your heart?
1. Don’t take it personally.
It’s not about you. Your child made choices, just as you did. Perhaps your child blames you, perhaps not. At any rate, you really need to remind yourself that your child made his or her own choices.
2. Connect with your spirituality.
Do you have a belief in a bigger picture? Some people connect through their religious practices. Spirituality for other is volunteerism, connecting with nature, or helping humankind in any way that they can. You get to define it. Talk to spiritual leaders or spiritual practitioners that you respect.
3. What you’re feeling is normal.
You’re grieving. People typically move through stages of grieving as they heal. So whatever emotions you’re feeling—anger, frustration, sadness, depression, guilt—it’s all normal and it’s all part of the process.
4. Detach with love.
Detaching doesn’t mean that you stop caring about your child. It means that you focus more on moving on with your life. Letting go of hopes, dreams, and expectations is painful. Yet, it's very necessary....for all of us.
5. Find peace and joy every day.
As you move on with your life, learn how to make yourself happy. Begin by appreciating the thing that bring you even a small degree of happiness each day. What made you happy in the past? Reconnect with those things.
6. Look for the positives.
One famous therapy assignment is called, “The Five Best Things About….” So, clients learn to focus on the five best things about having cancer, the five best things about having a son who is a drug addict, the five best things about having a daughter who is a lesbian, etc. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? People often give me an astonished look when I give them this writing assignment. Yet, it really does work. There are glimpses of sunshine in every storm. Learn to look for those glimpses.
Oh, and talk with a therapist if you get stuck. We're here to help, you know!
When you're the parent of a substance abuser, it's often difficult to decide what to do. On the one hand, you love your child (no matter how old they are) and want to do everything possible to help your child, particularly if they seem to be missing some basic life skills (such as budgeting their money or paying their bills on time). On the other hand, you don't want to enable them to continue to use drugs or drink alcohol. Addictions can be tricky. Let me give you a real-life example:
My oldest brother began to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol in high school. Marijuana came shortly after that. My parents often didn't know what to do. Naturally, they did the best that they could, but it wasn’t enough. When he was eighteen, my brother joined the Marines. Five painful years later, he was discharged. He had a habit of going AWOL and had to make up his time for doing so. When my dad was assigned by the military to work in Taiwan, they had little time to decide what to do with my twenty-something brother.
Weeks before my parents were to be transferred to Taiwan for two years, they set my adult brother up in an apartment in Denver and found a job for him working in a gas station two blocks away from his new apartment. They asked themselves, "Are we enabling him?" Two years later when they returned, my brother was nowhere to be found. The gas station owner said that he only showed up for a few weeks before he took off. We saw him a few times over the next decade. He would visit for a week or two, and then leave. We knew that he was struggling with substance abuse and alcoholism, but we didn't know that substance abuse and mental illness are often associated with each other.
When we saw him, he would talk about the voices in his head that told him what to do. Clearly he was in need of psychiatric help. But this was the 70s, and my parents weren’t very tuned in to seeking help. Jim talked about riding the rails (as a bum) all over the USA. He introduced us to some of his very interesting homeless friends, who also heard voices. He tried a few jobs over the years, but never stayed with a job. He needed to be free. And he needed to do what the voices told him to do.
Then my parents moved again and there was no way to notify Jim. So we lost touch with him for twenty-five years. Twenty-five years! When my sister located him through the Salvation Army, we were all grateful.
My brother is schizophrenic. Thank heavens he now lives with my widowed dad and they take care of each other. My parents took him in and made sure that he got enough to eat each day. He’s clearly disabled, but doing well as long as he takes his medications (which he does as a condition of living there). He no longer smokes, drinks, or uses illicit drugs. This was also a condition of living at home. And Jim was just plain tired of living the life of a homeless man. He was in sad shape when we found him—thin, toothless, and frightened.
So, what do parents do when they have an adult substance abusing child who clearly needs help? Talk to a professional….at length. You've got to figure out if your loved one is disabled or enabled. It's too difficult for a family to try to make these kind of distinctions on their own. There are often no easy answers. Boundaries and rules need to be clearly defined. Love needs to be shown. A contract needs to be made in many cases. But I’m here to tell you, there are often very happy endings. Good luck and God bless.
Teenage drug abuse is a serious problem and you don't want your child to have self-destructive habits. You, in fact, did drugs yourself. You know a lot about it and you have valuable opinions. Addiction can lead to a lot of misery. A few things to consider when talking to your kid:
1. This isn't about you.
We all want to warn our kids against the dangers of drug abuse. But the single biggest reason so many of us are reluctant to start the conversation is because we're afraid we'll be asked that uncomfortable question: "Mom, Dad...did you do drugs?" So let's start by stating the obvious: This isn't about what you did or didn't do. It's about what your child is going to do or not do. So let's talk about how your personal experiences might help steer your child in a good direction.
2. Experts disagree.
For every therapist who recommends openness and honesty about your past, another advises caution. The fact is, you can say too much. A good place to start is by considering your child. Some kids demand candor. Others are happy just to talk. Use your judgment. You know your kids better than anyone.
3. When to lie.
In our opinion? Never. Some parents who used drugs in the past choose not to tell the truth, but risk losing their credibility if their kids discover the real story from a talkative uncle at a family party. Many experts recommend you give an honest answer--or no answer at all.
4. The whole truth?
Try to avoid giving your child more information than she or he asked for. (No need to reveal you smoked marijuana 132 times!) This is not a courtroom; it's a conversation.
5. Say what you mean to say.
Like other important conversations you'll have with your kids, the point you're trying to make is what really matters. In this case, it's crucial your kids understand that you don't want them to use drugs. Don't beat about the bush; say so. ("I don't want you to use drugs.") Then give your reasons why. ("Drugs are dangerous, expensive, unpredictable, distracting...") And yes, it's okay to have a lot of reasons.
6. What have you learned?
Before you talk, take stock. You've lived your entire life in a culture where drugs are a fact of life. From the headlines on TV to your own experiences, you've seen too many examples of how drugs can change young lives for the worse. Your own experiences with drugs are just part of the bigger picture. The real opportunity here is to share what you've learned.
7. You could say it like this:
"I tried drugs because some kids I knew were experimenting, and I thought I needed to try drugs to fit in. It took me a while to discover that's never a very good reason to do anything. Do you ever feel pressured like that?"
8. Or like this:
"Everyone makes mistakes and trying drugs was a mistake I made. It made me do some dumb things. And it's hard to look back and see that I got anything good out of the experience. I love you too much to watch you repeat bad decisions I made."
9. Or even like this:
"My experience with drugs is no guarantee that yours would be the same. Drugs affect everyone differently. So I wanted to share my experiences with you, because even if drugs didn't ruin my life, I've seen them ruin other people's lives. And God forbid you should be one of those people."
10. Don't just talk. Listen.
You can anticipate that your child's first reaction when you raise the subject of drugs will be to be quiet. So do your darndest to make it a two-way conversation. Ask what they think. Ask if it's a subject their friends talk about. Ask what they think of celebrities who use drugs. Keep asking questions. And listen to the answers.
11. Stay calm.
Whatever happens, try not to raise your voice. If you do lose your temper, try to catch yourself. It's okay to admit that these conversations aren't easy for you, either. And if things aren't going so well, suggest talking about it again another time. ("I didn't mean to surprise you or make you feel awkward. Let's talk again in a day or two.")
12. Good luck.
Yes, it's difficult to know how to talk to your kids about drugs. You don't want them to hold your history up as some kind of a precedent to follow, or as a tool to use against you. But you may be able to use your life experiences as a teachable moment. So even if you're nervous, don't put off having the conversation. This isn't about your past. This is about your child's future.
This article as been reprinted by permission from drugfree.org.