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"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.



Breaking a few eggs: (Summary of 3-3-07 Meeting.)
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Our meeting at the Eastern District Probation Office this last Saturday featured a lively discussion, a spirited role-play, and some homemade Lady Fingers brought by one of our members that ARE TO DIE FOR. About 10 parents attended. There was much optimism laced with caution. One parent put it something like this: “Things have been going great this year, but I could go home from this meeting and find that my son has relapsed again.”

The Role-play: We all know the experience of being around someone who may react badly if we say the “wrong” things. We walk on eggshells. We constantly measure the effect that our words may have before we utter them. Like an overly cautious carpenter we measure twice, three or four times the impact that our words may have- so that we only have to cut once.

The Scenario:

For some time now, this young man has been struggling with Heroin Addiction. He has been at Abraxas for about three months. At first, he hated it; he ranted and raved about how his mother and this Probation Officer placed him there. Now, he appears to be well adjusted and is maintaining the top behavioral level in the program. He has apologized to his Mom for the things he has done during his love affair with Heroin. He no longer seems to be blaming others. He says that he takes responsibility for the things he has done that has resulted in his placement at Abraxas.

Up until now, Mom has not brought up some of the things that have been bothering her. This role-play takes place during an imaginary visit to her son at Abraxas…


Mom: Hi Sonny. You look SO good. Oh my goodness, you have really gained weight up here! Oh my, it’s good to see you! [Mom moves chair up closer and makes warm friendly eye contact.]

Sonny: [grunts], Ok mom, Ok its good to see you too. [As if to say-c’mon don’t embarrass me- someone might hear.]

Mom: I mean it! Even your brothers, who sometimes act as if they hate you, said they miss you.

Sonny: I should be home soon on a home pass.

Mom: I know. [Pause]. I hear great things about what you are doing up here. You mentor other teenagers now!!! I am very proud of you! And I know that you are back to playing guitar and I keep hearing about how talented you are!

Sonny: Yeah, well that home pass gives me something to look forward to. You want me to come home, right?

Mom: Oh honey I want you home in the worst way- we all do. Of course, I don’t want you home if you’re going to kill yourself with Heroin; nobody wants that.

Sonny: Mom! I quit that! I’m never going to do that stuff again. I learned a lot up here! [Scowl on his face shows displeasure that she would have to bring THAT up.]

[Pause.]

Mom: You know what? I really need to talk to you about some difficult things. I guess you could say that I need to get some things off my chest.


Sonny: What? Mom, don’t mess things up for me, OK? [Obviously feeling fearful of what might come up.]

Mom: What do you mean?

Sonny: Well, I’m finally getting the hang of things up here- you know its real hard for me up here, and I try so hard, so please don’t start bringing me down, OK?

Mom: OK, I’m listening, what could bring you down?

Sonny: I don’t know- anything. I have a lot on my mind right now. Let’s wait till we get home to talk about anything important- I don’t want my therapist to get the wrong idea. I might loose my home pass.

Mom: Well honey, I’m not sure if it will mess up your home pass or not- I hear you – that you are afraid, but Sonny, I NEED TO TELL YOU SOME THINGS. [Slowing down her words.] I mean, some things have been really bothering me.

[Pause.]

Mom: You know, I think you brought up a really good point.

Sonny: What?

Mom: About your counselor getting involved in this. Let’s ask her to come over here and sit in on this, so that she can support you and help you process our talk after I leave. That is a much better idea than her trying to figure it all out later.

Sonny: Are you nuts? I’ll get a level drop for sure. Ok, go ahead [Looking exasperated.] You’re going to do it anyway- I know you’re going to try to make me mad so that I don’t get my home pass. You don’t want me to come home do you? That’s what this is all about. You know I’m doing good, and you don’t want me to come home. Right?

Mom: Listen to me first – judge what I say second. Look, if you don’t want your therapist to sit in on this that’s OK. But I am going to tell her what we talked about. Nothing that I say is going to be kept secret. So, it’s up to you, but staff will be included now or included later.

Sonny: Why?

Mom: Because things that we agree to keep secret-keep us sick. And listen to this part honey- I WILL NEVER STAND BY AND HELP YOU TO STAY SICK! And that means, I won’t be keeping your secrets for you when you come home either. I will be honest with your probation officer, and I won’t cover or lie for you anymore.

Sonny: Ok call him over [Scowling again.] I don’t care, do what you want. I don’t care what you do. You’re going to do what you want anyway.

Mom: [Raising her voice.] Rose, do you have time to sit in on our visit?

Rose: Sure thing, you told me you might need me today- so I have someone here to help me cover.

Sonny: [Rolls his eyes.]

Sonny: Ok, what is it?

Mom: Son, I am troubled by some things that lay heavy on my heart. One is that I know from actual evidence, as well as from the core of my instincts as a mother, that you are the one that wiped out our bank accounts.

Sonny: Oh I TOLD you I never did that! You ain’t sticking me with that one. You better ask my brothers about that one cause I never took any of your money. [Delivered unemotionally, in a monotone.]

Mom: I’m glad we can talk about this. The second thing that troubles my heart, is that you have never taken responsibility for stealing from us.

Sonny: Cause I didn’t do it! [Looking mildly exasperated!]

Mom: Look son, [moving even closer and holding out a black book] I found this book out in the garage with your Heroin and your drug paraphernalia. It is definitely in your hand writing and it has every one of our bank account numbers listed.

Sonny: That is so wrong- you coming up here and accusing me of this. You calling me a liar Mom? Are you? Cause that’s what I think you’re doing, you’re calling me a liar, aren’t you?

Mom: It hurt a lot to lose the money. It hurts me even more that you have never admitted it. It’s like a knife in my chest! [Makes a motion of stabbing herself in the chest with imaginary knife.]

Sonny: You’re doing this just so that I won’t get to come home. You waited till I was doing good, didn’t you? Why did you wait till now to bring this up? Huh? I keep asking you that – you’re the liar – you won’t admit that you don’t want me home!!!!! That’s what this is all about!

Mom: You are right about part of that.

Sonny: Yeah, I know I’m right!

Rose: Wait a minute you guys. Sonny, why did you write these account numbers down in a book and keep it hidden in your Heroin stash?

Sonny: [Looking at his Mom- not his counselor.] See mom. You happy? I’m going to loose my level now. I told you-[looking at counselor now] I told her- that is not my writing. I never wrote down anything like that. Did she ask my brothers about it?

Mom:
[Keeping eye contact with Sonny, not the counselor.] Oh I’ve checked. It’s not your brother’s hand writing. It’s yours. And they don’t do Heroin, so why would it be hidden in a Heroin stash in the garage?

Sonny: [Looking at his counselor, not his Mom.] She’s just turning things around on me- cause I’m doing so good up here.

Mom: I’m so glad you brought that up. [Moving chair closer to Sonny.]- I AM TURNING MYSELF AROUND. You see, I WILL NEVER STAND BY AND WATCH WHILE YOU KILL YOURSELF WITH HEROIN. I DID DO THAT. DO YOU HEAR ME SONNY? I DID THAT AND I AM TURNING MYSELF AROUND. I’M NOT THE SAME PERSON that used to be so afraid that I might upset you. AND I W I LL NEVER stand by and do nothing while you kill yourself with drugs. And I will not stand by now while you say you want to change your life, but you still can’t find the courage to take responsibility for what you have done.

Sonny: [Seething Quietly.]

Mom: And let me tell you one other thing. I DON’T want you home until you’re ready to recover from this Disease. And until then, I will do EVERYTHING in my power to see that you stay up here where you are safe- where you can’t hurt yourself.

Sonny: I can come home now for a visit and not get high mom. I will never get high again. I gave all that up- but you just don’t trust me!

Mom: No- you are so right! I can not begin to trust you as long as you persist in these lies. Maybe you can stay clean on a home pass; maybe you can’t. But as long as you persist in these lies, I want you to stay up here where you are safe.

Sonny: You just want me to fail up here.

Mom: I want whatever is going to help you save your own life. If that means a level drop- so be it. You deal with it!

Sonny: You don’t care about me. I work so hard up here. You’re turning it all around on me.

Mom: Sonny, I’m proud of you and the hard work you did up here. But it’s going to take more than that to stay off Heroin. I’m so afraid you’re going to kill yourself.

[Pause.]

Mom: You know what?

Sonny: What?

Mom: I would feel a whole lot better if you were more worried about your life-threatening disease – than about your level drop!

Follow up note: I made up that role-play. The role-play we did at PSST inspired me to write it- but it is not the exact same one. I want to thank the parent who provided the scenario and who acted the part of her son.

Discussion:
As parents, we learn early how to figure out what is wrong with our children. We start when they are infants. We know which cries mean that something is really really wrong, which ones mean that something is really wrong, and which ones just mean something is wrong. Then, as they grow we continue to “read” our children, constantly assessing what emotions, they feel and how things look from their perspective. When we gain that place of understanding, we feel better. Because now that we know what is wrong so we can help.

Most of what we do to help we do to help we do to mitigate or ease the pain of our child. If he is upset that he is not able to have a toy that another child is playing with, we find him a similar toy. If he is jealous that another child has been successful when he has failed, we point out to him that he is successful at many things too. If he wants to watch his show on TV (and he might be very disappointed or angry if he does not get to watch) - we gladly sacrifice our own TV show so that he can watch HIS show.

This is part of how we judge our success as parents. If our child is upset, we have failed. If he is happy, then we have succeeded. This is natural. But what happens when our teenager gets involved with drugs?

NEXT: Enter the ADDICTION. Now everything we have done to manage, “read,” and intervene in our children’s life sort of backfires. For example, our teenager wants money or he wants to go out without making good acceptable plans. If we do not give in- he will be unhappy, at best. If we do give in, he will be temporarily pacified. Moreover, if he is unhappy and throwing a tantrum, then it is we the parents that he blames. Are we good parents? If we are so good, why is he so unhappy?

At some point we start to walk on eggshells. We do not want to rock the boat. God forbid we make our teenager angry now. Many of our teens with drug problems have really mastered the anger thing. Many times, we are also dealing with psychiatric problems in our teens. It is difficult to know what to do. Who wants to upset a teenager by saying NO to something that he wants so badly, and end up hearing something like, “You know what? YOU’RE the reason that I need to f___ing get high, so that I can get away from you.”

NEXT: Enter the RECOVERY. Ok, now we are finally where we need to be. Maybe our teen is in an inpatient treatment program and he is planning to work a 12-step program. However, now we are REALLY walking on eggshells. We not only fear that he is going to be angry with us, but now we also fear that WE will cause THE RELAPSE. After all, if he gets angry he will be at a higher risk of going back to the drugs. Now darn it, it is all our fault because we made him angry.

NEXT: Enter FAMILY COUNSELING. The therapists and counselors tell us that it is important that our teenager be able to get to the bottom of some of his problems, no doubt some of which are rooted in his relationship with us! Then, when the family sessions start- we feel like we are targets for his frustrations.

Perhaps he is full of resentments. These resentments can range from “you liked my sister better than me,” to “you should have stopped me from using the Heroin before I got hooked.” What has not changed now that he is in Recovery, is that he is still trying to control us with the threat that he might become upset. His power in the family may still be incredible. Even in inpatient treatment, or in court placement, our teens attempt to control us by the threat that they will be absolutely livid with us.

And maybe we feel that many things WERE our fault, because darn it, we are human beings, and therefore we are not perfect. So we apologize, and we look for ways to let our teenager know that we still care and we still love him; as if love can cure anything.

Meanwhile, all our apologies, statements of love, and our determination to “understand” are often seen as a sign of weakness by our teenager. He will play along of course. He understands this game well. The name of the game is “How Many Ways Can We Make This MOM and Dad’s FAULT?”

Therefore, we walk on eggshells. How else can we make it though the day? Well, there is another way. We can break a few eggs. In fact, we can break a few on purpose. Why? Because we come to understand that our child’s well being is no long further by the whole “tiptoe around the eggs thing.” Furthermore, our teenager is not the only one that needs to express a few resentments! As parents, we need to express some things too! What is good for the goose...

And secondly, we come to accept that if he is going to believe that we have changed once he comes home from the rehab, then we better show him some changes while he is still in the rehab. Our hope is that it produces therapeutic grist for the treatment mill.

We need to take risks in order to have any chance of helping our teenager make good decisions. We need to be strong, take-the-bull-by-the-horns parents, who do not shy from confrontation. We need to break a few eggs.

I hope that you see from this role-play that we can break a few eggs without being unseemly or mean-spirited. Our love and our warm caring feeling can be expressed at the same time that we are taking our bull by the horns.

Closing Note: I do not mean to imply that by pacifying our children, we parents have caused their addiction. We all pacify our children to one degree or another. That is not what causes the addiction and most children will not develop addictions just because a little spoiling has happened. However, when addiction strikes, it becomes counter-productive to pacify or enable them out of the consequences of their addiction. Our only hope lies in combining warm expressions of love and concern with toughness. We can see the manipulations. We must not be manipulated any longer. So, let’s break a few eggs.


4 comments:

Mary said...

Breaking a few eggs...... We all NEED to do that. One of the many impotant things I have learned since my son has been in recovery is , As parents, we did not CAUSE the ADDICTION, we can not CONTROL it and we can not CURE it. Once I came to fully understand this, and my son has learned to take responsibility and be accountable for his choices, our relationship has become stronger & on a more mature level. I, no longer am afraid of rocking the boat or hurting his feelings if something is bothering me. That comes from both of us maturing, growing and learing more about addiction. Knowledge is a powerful tool!!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a thoughtful role play. And you're right -- dealing with addiction and recovery has to force parents to change their role dramatically from the one they had and grew accustomed to when their children were small.

Lots of things to think about here.

Anonymous said...

Breaking a few eggs really pointed out how much we enable when we walk gingerly on those eggshells so as not to set off the addicted personality. By breaking them we are empowered and everyone can learn and heal.

Ken said...

Maybe like walking on eggshells over landmines is more realistic!

Look, our kids are deceptive and we hate it. But, In the past I have lied, mislead and/or tricked my daughter to get her moving in what I thought was the right direction. In retrospect it made no sense for to do that it only demonstrated my lack of courage to tell the truth. Not only that, I modeled the wrong behavior for. From now on I am going to try to stick with the truth.

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