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"Who Moved the Cheese?" or How Parent's Power Surge Perplexes Teen
Posted by:Sally--Thursday, May 20, 2010

This is an email that I received from Lloyd, who is Cisco's P.O. Lloyd and I have had several conversations over the last year about the manipulitive ways that Cisco tries to gain control. Rocco and I have made changes in our way of parenting. There has been a power shift and Cisco is left wondering "Who Moved the Cheese?" I have found a lot of insite in this email and thought it may be helpful for other parents.

Cisco admitted that some of the things he says to you he says not because he means it but because he wants to hurt you. You suspected as much. He perceives that some of the things you say are intended to hurt him. Actually, I think he kind of thinks that- but he also kinda knows that’s not true. What hurts Cisco is not the content of what you say- it’s the fact that you dared to say it to him. What hurts Cisco is really the feeling that he has lost power over you. That’s a really positive thing. He feels the shift of power and he strikes out to hurt you because feeling a power-shift is not pleasant.

Like my long-time (25-year vet) said at my Family Meeting last night, “When we see parents change, it often follows that teenagers change.") I think you and Rocco are driving the change process with Cisco. I mean, don’t get me wrong- Gateway YES is driving the change process in the short-term and they do a great job, even Cisco said they cover so much more than his last inpatient did) and Cisco himself is driving the change process in the short-term; however, you and Rocco are driving the change process in the longer-term.

What I mean by that is that any teenager will change enough “to get by” and Cisco because he is who he is, can do that extremely well- but he is “rattled” I guess is a good word, by the changes that he sees both of you going through. He is starting to believe that your changes are not short-term.

He is now faced with a similar dilemma that one of my other teen's was faced with. He will never be able to return to his chosen lifestyle and live at home and continue to “rule-the-roost.” Those days are over. Rocco and Sally have changed too much now. Now, he has to look at long-term changes or else he needs to plan to strike out entirely on his own. How is going to do that? Selling drugs for money? He’ll run the risk of going to jail- not a prospect that appeals to Cisco but he is smart enough to know that can really happen- no no no he has had enough of out-of-home placements and he does not want to start learning about real JAIL. Working at Burger-king? Not at all how Cisco sees himself and, once again, he knows that burger-king would not provide the lifestyle he has become accustomed to.

So you and Rocco have got him by the you-know-whats! He doesn’t like that. No one does like forced-change. And yet, part of him not only likes it (it feels safe for a kid when adults take charge- it really does- he knows that you are going to do what you can to see that he doesn’t hurt himself) but part of him is so very impressed with the change that you have made that he has gained a whole new respect for you. It’s part of the reason he has been striking out at you, Sally. He is testing you- to see if you really are that stronger person or if he can still break you down with hurtful things or with guilt. He needs to test for himself to see if you really are tougher, smarter, and more ready to take bold action on his behalf.

It’s ironic, that by seeing him go through the “testing” that he helped to convince you that you were doing the right thing by insisting that he go to Liberty Station when he finished this last inpatient. You passed the test. Rocco,he doesn’t test much. It’s because he always saw Rocco as a tough guy.

However, he was and still is closer to mom. But he didn’t see mom as a tough parent. He saw you as a loving, concerned, and basically a good mother- but he only lately has been seeing you as a “tougher” person. He actually respects and admires you for the changes you are making, in fact, what came out yesterday in our interview, is that he is so impressed with you, but you see, for him it’s a rather inconvenient thing, because he still planned on “ruling-the-roost.” Probably, without realizing it, he planned on “ruling-the-roost” till he was 25- living at home, doing drugs, working part-time, taking a few classes, spending his limited income on shoes, drugs and girls. No real rent, cable, internet, or phone bill to worry about- plenty of time for that later if and when he decided to finish “growing up.” Meanwhile he planned on having you both back off because he is (will be by then) 18 years old.

Now all of his plans must change. Why? Because his parents have “cut him off at the pass.” He can’t see that plan working anymore. You guys just won’t put up with it. So, now, he is looking at change in the longer-term. It isn’t enough for him to just skim by, he needs to pull out a change to match the change that you have made or, geeeez louize, he needs to start out on his own. That latter prospect is too scary for him.

Why is he so impressed that you have really changed? Lots of reasons and lots of little things that you do differently, but one huge glaring reason is that you did not rescue him from Liberty Station. He is still reeling from that although he wouldn’t want you to know it. He is stunned by your strength especially because he knows you better than anyone except Rocco and your other son, and maybe, in some ways he knows you even better than they do. Still, he does not want to believe that you have grown so much stronger. It perplexes and continually surprises him. Once again, it’s why he needs to test you – to assure himself that you aren’t just faking.

Now all we need in this recipe is a little bit of luck. You and I talked about luck the other day and while we hate to realize it- sometimes we can do everything right and the finished product isn’t what the recipe called for. Still, we have excellent chances. The perfect luck right now would be for Cisco to catch the 12-step bug. For him to set down some roots in 12-step that last and for him to feel really good about the new Cisco, who not only wants to stay clean but really knows how to do it. He has never really learned how to do it even though he learned many things.

Liberty Station is the very best chance for him to catch that bug. And it’s a perfect way for him to win the challenge with his mother that now or soon, if we are lucky, will exist. What challenge is that? Why it's who can make the bigger change in their life. He sees how both of you have changed. Now he has a chance to sort of out-shine you both. All it would take is for him to be serious about his 12-step program: to become a leader in 12-step, the way his parents have become a leader in PSST.

You’ll know it when it happens. Not at first probably, but the longer he is exposed to what’s going on down there at Liberty Station, the more likely this will happen. In the meantime- he will still test Sally. He still has to do that. He can’t believe the changes, and so when he tries his old manipulative stuff on you, and it doesn’t work, he feels angry, then he accepts, then he admires.

Change is perhaps the hardest thing we do as humans. I can’t predict when or how and I don’t think anybody can. But I believe strongly that you have given him the best chance to change. Now the rest is up to him. And I believe that Cisco will change as a result of all this- either now at Liberty Station, or later when things get really tuff for him out-there.

He has the tools- the seeds have been planted, now we need to have a faith that things are working out the way they are supposed to work out, even though it may or may not work in the time frame that we prefer. After all , it’s a miracle that we are looking for here, and miracles happen all right, but not always when we want them to happen.

Still, I am optimistic and I am so proud of both of you. I guess it’sanother way to look at the “doubt-prayer” that Rocco posted. Doubts cover not only “if” but “when.” Once again, it’s ironic, but as Cisco senses that you are prepared to patiently wait for the change, and that you aren’t going to return to enabling him while you are waiting, that tends to speed up his time-table for change. When he senses that you just have to have him make all these changes, and make them now, then he senses the power-shift coming back to him and that feeling of a power-shift is toxic to an addict.

What am I talking about? Translated: He can come home in three months- but that’s really up to him and we’ll see how that goes. It’s not OUR need (or your need) that he be home in three although we would like that. WE are perfectly OK with him being there longer if it’s recommended and if he needs it. He will be looking for reassurances that you will fight to get him out in three. That may be his first move. It may go like this:

Cisco: Ok mom, you know I came here and I’ve done my best. I didn’t want to come, but I came. Now I need to know that you’ll be there for me when I need you.

Mom: I’m here for you Cisco.

Cisco: I know but I mean I need to know that you’ll fight for me – you know- if I try my best – and they try to screw me over- I need to know that you’ll fight for me.

Mom: You really need to be able to count on me- to depend on me.

Cisco: Yeah, you know after three months I’ll be away from home home and in a Gateway Program six full months! Then add those three months from Ridgeview and all that probation time and enough is enough- I learned my lesson. You see that I’ve changed don’t you?

Mom: You need to know that even if “they” don’t recommend you to come home in three- that if I think you’re ready- I’ll fight to get you home.

Cisco: Yeah- exactly!

Mom: Ok. No problem. I’ll fight for you Cisco. I love you- you know you can count on me.

Cisco: Yeah, I thought so.

Mom: One thing though.

Cisco: What?

Mom: I’m going to look hard at the clinical recommendation that Liberty Station makes. They are professionals here and I want their opinion.

Cisco: Oh you don’t know! – I hear these people just want to keep their beds full- so they look for reasons to keep you here.

Mom: Nevertheless – I will value their opinion.

Cisco: So if they screw me over- you won’t fight for me- you’ll just let Lloyd and Liberty Station call the shots?

Mom: Oh I’ll fight for you Cisco- I fought to see that you even got to come here- you realize that don’t you?

Cisco: Yeah.

Mom: And I’ll fight to see that you stay here as long as necessary to fight this damn disease that’s trying to kill you. You just don’t always like it when I fight for you.

Cisco: Oh shit! This is not what I need to hear- you’re just upsetting me now. That’s what you like to do – don’t you, just upset the crap out me and take my really really positive attitude and just crush it- that’s why I hate you so much- cause you just get your kicks by kicking me- and I was being honest with you – like I’m supposed to be- I did everything right- and now you just come down here to piss me off.

Mom: Yes, sometimes when I fight for you, Cisco, it really does piss you off. [notice the ‘agreeing’ statement here feel the power that shifts when Sally does not try to convince him that what he just said is not true- first of all- he knows its not true- don’t waste your time trying to convince him- it’s a trap, a game and it’s designed to shift power back to him. ["Poor baby, does he really thing I’m out to ruin his day- oh what an evil mother I must be!." You’re too smart for that now- it still hurts you when he says these things, but those tactics are easily seen for their manipulative nature. So we stick to our guns and do what he hates- agree with part of what he said. The part that’s easiest to agree with is “you don’t always like it when I fight for you- but I’ll fight to see you aren’t killed by this disease- no matter what it takes.”

Cisco: Ok, you know what, if this is the shit I have to listen to- after all the changes I’ve made- then fu*& it- I just won’t try at all- cause you know what – I’m not appreciated, I just quit- you happy now? Is this what you want? [keep in mind all this is because he wanted to get a promise from his mother that he could get out in three and he can’t believe he is not getting that- but that promise would undermine the clinical teams approach and reassurance of this is not what he needs AT ALL- it could be the kiss of death for him right now – but it’s especially hard because as parents we want him home in three too- maybe even worse than he does. Right now – it doesn’t help if we emphasize that little detail. We don’t lie or hide it- we just don’t emphasize it because if we think he’ll “understand things better” if he knows how much it’s killing us that he is not home, or how much it may be killing us that we can’t be sure that he’ll be home in three months- forget it- that’s not going to help the situation one little iotta).

Mom: This conversation isn’t helping you at all today. [more agreeing]

Cisco: No it’s sure as hell not!

Mom: Ok, I’m sorry but you’re right, let’s talk about this later.

Cisco: No thanks- I’m done with your little pep-talks and thanks to you, I don’t feel like even trying down here- I just don’t give a fu&^ right now if you want me to be honest with you. You don’t want to know the truth mom, you can’t handle the truth. [ a bit of jack Nicholson coming out now- we have to really appreciate one thing here- this kids got STYLE. He, and his addiction because that’s what we are really seeing here- is FORMIDABLE. And just because we can see the manipulative techniques and label them, it doesn’t mean that they don’t still have power to move us, make us cry, or make us disappointed, or make us angry.

Mom: I’ve completely ruined your day. I’m sorry this is so hard for you. Is there anything I can do to help or is it too late for that? {notice that Sally takes responsibility for ruining his day- she doesn’t get all caught up in something like “Oh cisco, you’ve ruined your own day here buddy- not me- you’re so manipulative, can’t you see that?" Trust me- HE WOULD NOT SEE THAT right now. He just wouldn’t. What's really going on is he is saying “Mom, you’ve got way too much power and it makes me sick!” If you responded with the “Oh - I didn’t ruin your day, you did” then that would really be like saying “Oh, Cisco, you’ve still got the power- you’re just not using it right today- I don’t really have any power here!” After all when you do this parenting thing right- it pisses people off because you are really saying “Yes, Cisco, I guess I do have some power and I know you struggle with that. You just don’t hear what you want to hear from me anymore!]

Mom: Sometimes the truth is ugly and I hate it.

Cisco: I know you do- you can’t handle it.

Mom: You are so right Cisco. Right now I hear you loud and clear. If you don’t get the answer you want out of me- the truth is- that you’ll just give up, stop trying to change, that’s an ugly truth that I wish I didn’t have to hear- I had hoped you had moved past that kind of thing.

Cisco: that’s what you heard? [Cisco is not comfortable with that summary but it's a good one.]

Mom: Yes, among other things, but that really jumped out at me. You know that used to be the truth at our house all the time. Anytime you didn’t get the answer from me that you wanted- you just flipped out.

Cisco: That’s not the same now. You don’t listen. I’m done with this sh*& [walks away angry]

Mom: [lets him walk away- but has a chat with staff- informs them that Cisco is upset and that things didn’t go well.}

Sally: Cisco is really upset after our talk.

Staff: What did you say that got him so riled up?

Sally: It’s a long story- but he can’t handle it well when he can’t control me- not like he used to anyway.

Staff: Oh I see do you want to talk about it.

Sally: Probably not right now, but I want to alert you that he is very upset that he can’t control me anymore- I think he’ll handle it well, but I have to make sure that we don’t keep secrets from staff- so I want you to know that he tried a power-play on me. It didn’t work the way he wanted it to- and he’s struggling with that. He’ll be fine in a bit, when he thinks it over – he’ll be fine.

Staff: Thanks so much for letting me know. Lots of parents just walk out after a fight- and we have no clue, except for what the kid says about what happened. So thanks. You know this often happens down here- it’s usually no big deal.

Sally: Thank you. Can you call me later and let me know if he’s ok?

Staff: Sure- write you number down here so I don’t have to look it up – thanks!

Sally: Ok, I’m leaving now.

Staff: It sure sounds like you did the right thing!

Sally: I know I did. I just get tired of always doing that – but it does get easier.



Christine said...

Thank you Lloyd and Rocco. Your insight is priceless to our situation. I was in the middle of writing my daughter and re-read your article before completing it. The message to her in my letter was: "I will continue to fight for your recovery but refuse to enable your addiction" and that will be a clear and concise message to my daughter every visit; every letter and every phone call that we engage in. My daughter is priceless and I will never give up hope! Thank you for giving me the backbone that I need in this very difficult life situation. With the help of the PSST we will get through these times together.

Lloyd Woodward said...

Thank you Sally for posting my email to you. I appreciate that you not only try to learn this stuff, but that you always want to reach out to other parents with your knowledge. Both you and Rocco do that a lot.

I took the liberty just now to edit some of the rougher parts of the email, making sure that the jist of it stays the same.


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