Quote of the Week

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

Eight things I wish I had learned sooner about having a child with a drug problem.
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Wednesday, May 02, 2007

This is written by Lori, a long-time member of PSST.

I had a little boy once,
My bundle of joy.
Happy, spirited, affectionate.
He is my life.

1. Do not try to fight the disease of Addiction alone.

How do we deal with all those feelings surrounding being parents of a drug addicted teenager? It sure isn’t easy. Could anything in life be worse? Just the heartbreak alone is overwhelming enough, as you watch your child melt away into something you cannot even recognize. Add onto that the added responsibility of doing what is right by your child, by stepping up into your parental authority, as you never had to before. How do we do that? Well know this, regardless of where you live or how educated you are, how competent you think you are, no matter how good of a parent you are or believe that you are, believe this ---- You are in way over your head! You cannot do this alone. You cannot do this in isolation to the family.

If you try to do it alone, your family may be ripped apart and your child will be lost to drug addiction and he can die. And make do doubt about it, lives are on the line!! And the things that you must do to save your child’s life will go against all the instincts you have as parent; it goes against all prior knowledge you may have or think that you have.

You must learn to deal with this disease called Addiction, and it is a disease, just like cancer, a brain tumor, juvenile diabetes, etc. Would you treat your child for cancer in secret, in isolation, and alone….and expect it to be effective?? Would you refuse medical treatment for your child, and expect him to live through it? Would you? Well, your drug-addicted teenager does have a disease. This disease is Addiction. It physically distorts brain activity and morphs the thought process. It is a disease without a cure, and it can be a fatal.

2. There is effective treatment available and to help the treatment work you have to stop enabling your child.

There is treatment, and that treatment can be successful. We parents are the cornerstones of that treatment. Without us, all other treatment is marginalized. Therefore, we must be there through thick and thin with our children, but we must be there at the right distance doing the right things. One thing is for certain: enabling them is not the right thing. Anything you do that provides anything to them can be enabling. I do mean anything, including food and shelter. Sometimes you need to step back as you watch them fail and the only thing you can do is pray that they will be safe. That is the right thing, but sometimes not. Other times you need to be “In their face”, and that is the right thing, but sometimes not. One thing I have learnt is that we cannot do this alone. We need outside help to guide us, lead us, and train us on how to deal with given situations that will one day lead our children to a healthy clean life, where one day we can once again recognize our child.

3. There is help out there and The Juvenile Court of Allegheny County is the best-kept secret we have in Western PA.

So, where do we for help? The first place we go for help is the authorities, or the police, or Act 53 counselors, or attorneys, or whatever avenue you want to take, but you must get your child into “The System”. The Juvenile Court of Allegheny County is the best-kept secret we have in Western PA. They are a team of trained professionals that are dedicated to treating the youth in our area. They work long hours, are there for our kids day and night, and are very competent in what they do. In addition, they have access to some of the best facilities in the country.

Before I placed by son into the system, I did everything I could to avoid placing him into the juvenile court system. I now know that was a major mistake. The final thing that convinced me was the independent research that I did on drug rehabilitation programs. The state of PA does have some of the best in the country. However, with all of these facilities, you must be court-ordered. Otherwise, the treatment program would not admit our child. I did not understand that at the time, but I do now. It is not easy watching your child proceed through these programs, but you must get your child into a long-term placement facility so that the behavior modification and drug rehabilitation treatment can work for your child. It will be your instinct to comfort your child. It will be your instinct to convince yourself that he has had enough. It will be your instinct to save him from any more personal pain needed in order for him to get better. However, you cannot do that. You must not do that!

4. You must turn your authority over to the experts who are directing your child’s care and recovery.

As a parent, you will need support for yourself to allow your child to maximize the benefit of these treatment facilities. You will need support from the counselors. You will need guidance from wherever you can get it. In addition, you must turn your authority over to the experts who are directing your child’s care and recovery. Those individuals have been there, done that many times over, and they know better than you do what needs to be done.

In addition, what is best for your child will not be what your parental instinct indicates. Your parental instinct will drive you to save him, yet you must force him to help himself, to force him to assume responsibility for his recovery and to step back and allow him to proceed through a cleansing process so that he can leave behind the addiction and behavior patterns. That is not easy for your child; in fact, it will be the hardest thing he will ever do. However, he cannot do it if you interfere with the process or, in the typically parental line of thinking, if you try to help. Your child will only lean on you and provide excuses for why he does not need to proceed through anything so difficult.

Your child will try to convince you that everyone involved in these programs are incompetent and are not helping. They will continue to manipulate you in order to support his addiction, to support the physical distortion of his thought processes caused by the disease. Your child cannot successfully proceed through these treatment programs if you try to help, and you must rely on the experts who are now effectively their guardians. This will be very difficult for you to watch. But you must!!

5. Remember, you will always be an important part of your child’s life and a very important part of his treatment. You are on the treatment team now!

But always remember that you are still his parent and he is still your child, and while you are all working through this process you must keep the communication lines open, no matter how hateful the conversation may became or how difficult the process has become. Remember, you are still in control of your conversations with your child. You are still the parent. If a conversation begins to become unconstructive, you can end it with a calm comment about how much you love them and that you can talk again when they are having a better day. Then walk away and wait for that better day. Have faith that a better day will come. It will. It may take days, weeks, or sometimes months, but a better day will come.

6. You must regain your own life.

As your child proceeds through the rehabilitation process, your lives as parents must proceed forward. Through the years of dealing with your drug-addicted teenager, you have lost yourselves in their drug addiction. You must regain that portion of your life. That is very important. Go on vacation with your spouse, a friend, your other children, etc. Do lunch with friends more often. Take a course on the Internet. Volunteer for a committee at church. Proceed with your life and gain moments of comfort, satisfaction, and peace away from the issues of your troubled teenager. I am not suggesting that you forget about your child who is in a drug treatment facility, but you do need a diversion. You cannot continue to constantly dwell on it. You must find a diversion. If you have time on your hands, find something constructive to fill it. If you have a need just to have fun, go out with a friend. In fact, find fun things to do. In other words, Get a life!! And it is important that all of this must continue even after your child is released from the treatment facility, because you cannot allow yourself to become consumed once again into your child’s drug addiction.

For my husband and me, one thing we started to do is take weekend trips. Sometimes, we went with friends. That too can help. Your friends do not even need to know the situation with your child. We established a pattern of weekend trips. As time passed our friends would remind us that it is time for another.

If you have a need to nurture, get a pet. I got a dog and she certainly was good company. However, she wasn’t a big enough diversion, so I got another dog. Then I convinced myself that she was lonely for her brother, so I went back and got him. And you certainly cannot have an odd number because one of them may be left out of the play time, so I got yet another. Now we have four dogs and they provide a substantial diversion. Who knows, before this is all over, I may need more. Although, I think my husband will provide a large enough diversion if I mention getting another.

My main point is this: you must do what ever you need to do, to provide a large enough diversion from all those issues associated with your child’s drug addiction so that you can clear your mind of all those feelings that cloud your judgment. You must continue to deliberately prepare yourself to make good decisions by consciously clearing your mind of distracting noise that your emotions are generating. Maintain your diversions.

It is also key for your child in the recovery facility to know that your lives as parents continue, that the family is moving forward. For years, you have dealt with his drug addiction; he has been the center of everyone’s attention. He has controlled the family. He knows that. Part of the recovery process for your child is discovering that his drug addiction will no longer control the family, nor will the family tolerate his drug addiction. The family can go on without the drug addiction tearing it apart. And you, as the parent, must not permit your family to be exposed to your child’s unacceptable behavior and to his active drug addiction.

So how do we that?? It is not so easy, but then again it is very basic. The basic part is taking a stand against unacceptable behavior. That is easy to do. Parents do that all the time. The hard part is the extremes to which we must proceed in order to eliminate this unacceptable behavior. It will go against basic parental instinct. Not anyone else who is not familiar with drug addiction will understand it.

Another fact that causes this to be very difficult is the knowledge that this is sometimes a fatal disease. Nevertheless, you cannot control that. Moreover, if you try to control it, you feed the addiction process. You enable the addiction. Therefore, you must let it go. Let it go! You must gain control of yourself and the situation so that you can take a stand against this unacceptable behavior of bringing drug use into your home, of stopping unpredictable and unreliable behavior that is destroying the remainder of your family and is consuming your life.

So how do we do that? Well, at the risk of sounding like a psychotherapist, we must work through the feelings that stop us from doing right by our children. We must come to terms with our issues so that we can clear our minds of all the distractions that interfere with us making wise decisions for our children. We must eliminate the noise that generates confusion, and accept what the experts are telling us. We must face the fact that our child’s recovery is their responsibility. Their life and their survival are in the hands of the treatment professionals. It is essential that we come to terms with our fears of having a drug-addicted teenager. We must work through these feelings so that we can place them aside and make sound judgments on what is best for our child. Because isn’t that what this is all about, doing what is best for our child?

7. Hold onto some of the anger because sometimes you will still need it.

One trick that I have learnt in getting control of noise in my mind, of setting aside my fears, of getting control of my emotions, so that I can evaluate a given situation and hopefully make a good choice is what I call, Hanging onto the Anger. However, I do not mean that we strike out in anger, but use it in a constructive manner in order to provide strength to do what you must do. As with all situations and all relationships with people, there are “good-feeling” times and there are “bad-feeling” times. In the general course of raising children, our emotions as parents swing from one end of the spectrum to the next. Nothing can bring us greater joy than our kids can. There is truly nothing better in life. In fact, I think life would be very shallow without the joy that our children have given us.

However, at the other end of the spectrum, no one can get you angrier than your children can. Your spouse may run close second, but your kids are the winners in the anger category. Now add to that all this:

1. The drug addicted behaviors.

2. The extreme defiance.

3. The lies that are told to the point that you can’t believe anything that they say.

4. The extreme arguments that sometimes cross over into violence.

5. Your home being pulled into that drug-use cult of the streets.

6. The stealing.

7. The inability to trust anything associated with your own child in your own home.

8. The never knowing if they are coming home that night.

9. The time spent on the phone trying to find them.

10. The instant nausea every time the phone rings.

11. The constant terror day by day never knowing what will happen next.

12. Waking up at 3AM because you can’t breathe.

13. That burning sensation in your chest that just won’t stop.

14. And Yes- those moments of extreme anger. Why - Won’t - He - Stop! -- Why does he continue to rip us apart? --- I don’t even recognize him anymore. ---- What is happening to him? ----- What is so very, very wrong here!?

Well, we now know the answers to all those questions. Our teenager is not the typical teenager who is just spreading their wings, just starting to experience life as he leaves childhood. He is not the adventurous teenager who may be taking more risks than you would like him to take. He is not going through some “drug experimenting” phase and all will be okay when it is over. He is not one of many others that we know who did just that – And they were just fine!! Not ours! Ours are not fine! Not our teenager! Not our child! --- Ours are sick. They are Drug Addicts. They need help. They need treatment. They need long-term treatment.

You are a major, integral, essential part of your child’s treatment. You are a critical part to your child’s survival of this disease called Addiction. As you proceed through those decisions that you will make for the sake of your child’s treatment, you will find some, maybe all, decisions very difficult. So, remember the anger. Hang onto the anger, because you will need that to overcome the desperation of the situation. You will need something to balance the heartache of dealing with your drug-addicted teenager. So, hang onto that anger and remember it when you need strength.

8. Come to terms with the loss of your child’s teen years.

There is one last thing that we must some to terms with so that we can do what is right by our child. We must come to terms with the loss of our child’s teen years. Of course, during the recovery process, your child will receive much counseling so that he can come to terms with all those things in his life that he has thrown away because of his drug use. As parents, we have lost many of those moments too. Our times with our teenager has been consumed with his drug addiction and many of the typically teenager experiences that we wanted for him, and for us, will never be. We may never get to watch him participate in school activities, the band, or a sport. Summer activities have been consumed by his drug addiction, and there are few to none happy memories of vacations. It has been years since our families have been functioning as a real family. In addition, few family events centered on our teenager have been pleasant. We have not had happy family times, since before he became addicted. We will never know the good friends that he never had, because he will not have any friends from high school that he can keep.

We may never be taking that picture of him with his prom date. We may never be attending any school event that recognizes his Senior Year. We may not have a set of senior school pictures to distribute to family. We may not be attending any high school graduation. We may not be visiting different college campuses as he chooses which school to attend. We probably will not be organizing a graduation party. We won’t be hearing the stories from his school trips, nor we will not be making friends with the parents of his friends. He has lost his teen years and all those good things that are included and we have lost our teenager. That will never come back. As our child grows through the recovery process and emerges successfully as a recovered drug addict, he will be starting his adult life. He must do this in order to assume responsibility for himself and his own survival. The drug recovery process will not bring back our teenager and all the memories we should have had. We need to mourn that, and then let that go. We need to allow our child to become an adult and pass over all those teenager things that they never got to do; all those things that we never got to share with him; all those things that will never be. We need to let him go. We need to allow him to grow-up.

So now, it is your turn. Get your child into long-term treatment and into the juvenile system, anyway you can. Get him arrested if you must. Build your support network, which could be parents in similar situations. There are such support groups. Work with the local police, your child’s parole officer; search the Internet, etc., to get information about support groups in your area. However, you still need experts who can give advice. People such as drug abuse counselors, your child’s parole officer, your child’s counselors, doctors, etc. Become familiar with Halfway houses and consider the option of your child moving there upon release from the recovery treatment facility.

You also need to add things in your life that create a diversion beyond these all-encompassing issues of your drug-addicted child. You must come to terms with your feelings and fears so that you can set them aside and make sound decisions that are critical to saving your child’s life. Everyone has their own way in dealing with such things. Talk to friends, get counseling for yourself, join parent support groups, etc.

Another thing that might help is to start a journal and write things down. I did. Through the years, I wrote while I watched my son change from my sweet little boy into a teenager consumed with drug addiction. As I struggled with my fears and confusion, I witnessed this terrifying conversion. Now as I watch him evolve into an adult within drug recovery, and accept that piece of his childhood that we will never have, the following verse evolved. I call it, ‘I Had a Little Boy Once.’

I had a little boy once,
My bundle of joy.
Happy, spirited, affectionate.
He is my life.

He is smart. He is talented.
Strong, agile, gifted.
And his hugs melt me away.

I had a little boy once,
And into a teenager he grew.
He began to pull away,
And he became my worry.

And as his distance became belligerence,
I watched his strength melt away.
And my worry grows into fear.

I had a teenage son once,
Whose belligerence escalated into defiance.
Whose defiance pushed violence,
His values in disarray.

His innocence shot from him.
His youth being ripped from his soul,
And I feel desperation filled with terror.

I had a teenage son once,
Who threw away his friends, his dreams.
Turned his back on his family,
And gambled with his life.

He choose drugs over everything.
He choose drugs over me.
And I -- just -- ache.

And I wonder Why, why, why.
What didn’t I do.
What didn’t I say.
What do I do now.

And my son is still with us.
He struggles with his addiction.
His dreams remain just out of reach.
And I am overwhelmed with sadness.

He tries to maintain control.
But his life maybe taken by his excess.
And I live with crushing uncertainty.

My son is doing better now.
He is committed to being clean.
New dreams are evaporating the old,
And he plans for a future.

He openly honors Jesus.
Shows love for his family.
And I feel hope.

I have a son,
Who I will always hold dear.
His smile lifts up my world,
And I feel peace for that moment.

But I now know this disease called addiction.
And I sleep with its demon that never sleeps.
And I want so much to believe that his Use is over.

But I will always be afraid.

Because I had a little boy once,
And drugs stole him away.


Ken Sutton said...

Oh man, right on the button. Beautiful! Thanks for writing this. This can help so many parents.

Anonymous said...

Oh my. I am posting this through tears. Of profound sadness and recognition. This is my daughter. And this is my life. Your words have given me the courage to take the steps that I have been postponing for so long. And no small comfort knowing that I am not alone in this war. Thank you.
Barb K

Anonymous said...

Very powerful. Anyone who reads this will weep. You went deep inside yourself which is difficult but appreciated. Thanks for sharing this thought provoking letter.

Anonymous said...

That is the most touching poem & words I have ever read about addiction. There is not one parent of an addict that could read that without tearing up. You touched every emotion so eloquently. Your ability to write so openly and honestly is a talent.

Thank you for sharing.

Wilma said...

It is Easter Sunday 2011 and I found this post today.
The poem is so heart wrenching I have felt am feeling these emotions. We are still in the early stages of finding and getting help and I am so appreciative of everything you have shared.


This layout (edited by Ken) made by and copyright cmbs.