Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Part 9; Staying out of the Addict's Recovery

                       Part 9  Staying Out  of the Addicts Recovery
We have all experienced the 35th floor elation which I referred to in an earlier article. This is generated  by our belief system that does not recognize how long recovery takes for us and the addict. So when the addict gets cleaned up by rehab for a few weeks or months,we don’t know what to do to show how happy we are. Therefore we fall back into our old behaviors of trying to reward the addict for accomplishing something we see as monumental(the 35th floor) but which is in reality only the VERY BEGINNING of a long process(the first floor). I know I sound facetious but this is what plays out in our heads. That is because we too are in early recovery and don’t understand that  for us  too  this is just a BEGINNING. Recovery is a long arduous process for us and the addict. We start to forget the addict’s recent punishing behaviors which lie buried only skin deep. And we start to romanticize that they are now ok. So everything we didn’t finish doing for them before they went into rehab can now be resumed. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

I have often seriously said that the enablers live in a fantasy world. They have  heads cluttered with nonsense. I was the same way. I did not understand that one rehab is  just a nibble at recovery. It is only the very beginning- maybe. And was I wrong  and soooooo disappointed, not  just about  my addict but at myself for not understanding the any part of the truth about addiction. I must confess it took me about 10 years to really understand how bad things were going to be and what I had to do ultimately. I was an excellent denier of reality. Sadly we all want to believe wonderful things about all of our children. But the truth lies elsewhere when dealing with an addict. The only wonderful thing is honest –to- goodness recovery,which lies a lot further down the road then we want to believe.

Engaging with the addict when no one is ready,ie ,neither side is really in recovery, only leads to  more problems. We cannot control or manage the addict’s recovery –not one bit or one moment. We can manage our own recovery 100 %,however, and that is where we need to focus our energy. Bringing the addict home to  wonderful dinner and showering him or her with our love(or is it really control) and gifts, only tells the addict that they do not have to do one more thing for their own recovery. They see that we are going to do all the heavy lifting for them. Just like we always thought we were doing before rehab. The truth is we thought we were helping,but we were destroying the addict and ourselves, for good measure. That is the sum and substance of what our actions accompllish when we don’t understand the nature and longevity of addiction. And we do not understand that only the addict can fix his/her disease.

What is the moral? Before you engage your addict ask yourself”Am I in recovery far enough to understand that my old  relationship with the addict almost destroyed both of us”? And “am I ready for a totally new and different relationship with my addict”? If the answer is truly ”yes” and you understand how important honesty is,then by all means engage! But if the answer is “no” or” I am unsure”, politely tell your addict the answer is no engagement and no meetings. The addict will fully understand if he/she is in recovery and if not,you would have had a miserable time anyway.   


The Empty Chair at the Table -- Part 8

The Empty Chair-Coping with The Holidays
Our family  group often discusses this subject at this time of year. I have heard and learned a lot about the distress at Holiday time over my 22 years working in with families of addicts. My experience has taught me that there are at least two separate problems wrapped into this issue. Problem number one is that we have a total fantasy in our recollections of our perfect families gathered at the dinner table celebrating during our childhood. Accepting this fact offers hope of resolving why we feel so bad at this time in our lives.We envision that earlier perfect family and compare our present situation with an empty chair at the table,where we believe the addict should be seated enjoying our celebration. And without the addict (who hopefully is suffering the consequences of his/her behavior,)how can we have a celebration? This thinking diminishes us terribly and increases the overwhelming negativism we project on our perceived failures as parents.
This brings us to the second issue which requires resolution. The addict who is not in GOOD recovery, and 18 years old or older, does not belong in our homes, much less be celebrating the Holidays with us. We need to understand that bringing addicts into our houses when they are not in good recovery sends a terrible message to them . That message is"the old(very sick)relationships are in play once again". That is the last message we want convey to our addicts. Additionally the addicts who are not in good recovery should be celebrating the Holidays in the midst ofa the Recovering Community who know exactly how to deal with them because they are recovering from the same disease. The importance of our addicts' involvement with  the Recovering Community cannot be overemphasized.
We also need to take an honest look at our recollections of our childhood where the "perfect "family celebrated. The truth is that the "perfect" family was very imperfect-we just did not know who drank to excess or did far worse things to wives and children. Most families had all those problems;but no one talked about them. That is the difference between the perfect family of our childhood and our families. We are all flawed and so were they. The difference is communication. I am sure you have all heard the old adage:"we are as sick as our secrets." This is one of the main reasons we attend FA-to learn how to unburden ourselves,clear the air of denial, and open the door to our recovery.
What are the lessons contained in this writing? First stop comparing a fantasy world(our childhoods) with reality. What we face today  is reality ,I hope. No one gets better if we do not see,,understand ,and speak the absolute truth. That is what ACCEPTANCE is about. We see reality and we accept it. We move beyond the fantasies about ourselves and the nature of our addicts' disease. And no more fantasies about how we are going to fix that disease.by having the addicts join us for the Holidays so we can prove how much we love them. Haven't we already proven it a hundred thousand times?

Finally, we should all read Detachment over and over as the Holidays approach. When we have read it and Accept it the empty chair issues will go away forever as we all get better. Say the Serentiy Prayer at least 3 times a day and go to extra meetings. Use the phone list! It works when you work it! We need our recovering community- and the addict needs his/hers. We and our addicts cannot make this arduous journey to recovery alone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Part 7 Humility

Humility is not something we think a lot about when everything is going well in our lives. In fact so often the good life is marked by a lot of hubris. We sometimes think we have the world under (our)control. When a family is stricken with addiction , all those euphoric  feelings plummet and often we are left with nothing but despair.

We can first encounter humility when we start to work the Steps. Step 1 says we are powerless,and if that doesn't give us an inkling about  humility ,nothing ever will. However  our prior hubris and the rapid careening of our previous lives makes understanding powerlessness particularly difficult. We came down so fast from the 35th floor(my wife's favorite term) of our lives to  ground zero in what seems like an endless  moment of horror;.it actually takes months to get on a new track,because our egos don't want to let go of that picture perfect life we thought we were living. We thought we were really in control of so many things.. What we missed were the innumerable signs that the ground beneath our comfortable perch had been shaking for months or years. Denial is a powerful player in keeping us from seeing what is really happening.But the inevitable crash took place and then Step  1 can eventually open  our eyes to a different world-a different reality. It is a reality of  powerlessness. And this is our first introduction to a long lost concept and very powerful too(ultimately)-humility. In essence the world was never in our hands-ever. We just  thought it was.

Step 4 is the tool where we can really get a good  taste of humility. Taking a long deep personal  look inside for the first(unlikely) or the tenth time makes us see what is really  good and what is not so good about us. Our arrogance from the earlier life begins to disintegrate when we work Step  4 deep into our psyches. In it's place will rise humility.-but only when we are ready. For some of us it is hard to grasp what humility is all about. We have spent too many prior years immersed in our arrogance and self-assuredness.

Eventually with hard work on Steps 1,4 and ultimately 11 we will not only see,but live a life filled with humility.
Humility is probably the most visible  change when we and our addicts recover. Without humility there is only sobriety-not recovery for the addict. They are very different. I would estimate it can take 2-5 years to really become humble. Our world does not give high praise to being humble. We worship aggressivity,sad to say. Power is king in our world. So it is easy to see why humility is not easy to understand or embrace. But like  all things in recovery,"time takes time" and even small changes are never easy. But with persistence anything is possible.

 I have often said nothing helps me with humility more that stepping outside to observe a star-filled sky. When I really connect with my Higher Power in this setting I fully understand that I am a small(but important) cog in a very big wheel. And I have no more power to change another person that I have the power to rearrange the constellations in the sky. It really works for me.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Where Did We Go Wrong? Part 6

Every parent ask this question over and over when confronted with an unmanageable family member,usually an adolescent child. Deep down when our children have mounting and seemingly overwhelming problems we all question ourselves. I guess that is just parental nature,we think. But it is really more than that-,much much more. Parents tend to blame themselves when things do not go right in the family. So right from the get- go an addict child becomes our fault." If we had only"....... is the endless psychological intrusion into every parent's thoughts.It becomes a constant drumming inside our heads. "It must have been something we did or didn't do". And that's the origin of  enabling.  It is this dynamic that sets us off on the absolutely wrong path in dealing with addiction.
And this is where we start to go wrong. Many of us have raised normal and successful children already . A little enabling for them doesn't really interefere with their growth and independence. But with an addict everything we thought we know about parenting is turned upside down and we do not understand that inversion. We believe that if we keep doing what parents are supposed to do,help their children,we can solve the problem. But with an addict,nothing could be further from the truth.

It takes a lot of help and education to jump over the chasm of  total misunderstanding which belies  what we are supposed to do under this new circumstance.We do not realize that drug addiction is a completely different disease ;it is not something that follows the rules of normal parenting. It is a cancer that eats into the entire family destroying all relationships. It is not like diabetes or an infection. In those cases we would make sure our children received the best of care,all medicines appropriate and we would arrange for all of it. But when we leap into the fray with a drug addict,everything gets worse. And so much worse than we thought in our worst nightmares.It is our failure to recognize the presence of addiction and that  it is something we have never encountered before-that is where we go wrong. We cannot, without help, understand how bad this problem is and how important it is to stop trying to fix it.We need to understand  that we need help with this problem. No family can do this alone.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Making a Lifetime of Changes

                                                           Making a Lifetime of Changes

When I first  realized that my son was an addict,I felt like I was standing at the edge of an enormous chasm. I was attending meetings  for a short while and I heard people talk about serenity or peace of mind. I never thought that I would share in their conversations and I never dreamed that I would 20 years later have true serenity.I have thought a great deal about how this happened. It actually  didn’t just happen. It took years of work on my part. In the process I learned a great deal about myself that I had not previously  understood ,at  least at a  a conscious level. And that knowledge enabled me to work the steps successfully and most importantly make the changes necessary to lift me(a step at a time) across that yawning chasm,which I call the Despair of Addiction.

I view addiction as the following. We are all standing at one edge  of a very deep and very wide chasm with the addict. Across the chasm is a place called Recovery and at the pinnacle of Recovery is another related place called Serenity. There are only a few tattered rope bridges crossing the chasm ;but they look very dangerous and uncertain. Our choices(and the addict’s )are to climb down  into the chasm,or in the addicts’s case fall down the chasm. and then try to figure out how to navigate the dark terrain to get to the place called Recovery. It becomes very obvious  if we are realistic that we cannot carry the addict on our backs. The terrain is too difficult. We must each make our own journey. This is the analogy for letting go. If we carry or enable the addict,we will all be stuck in the chasm perhaps forever. If we let go of the addict and focus on our own path we have a chance to reach Recovery.

The tools for  successfully traversing  the tattered rope bridges lie in a toolbox called “Change”. Change works within us  at several levels. First are the changes that relate to our behavior in relationship to others,predominantly the addict in the beginning of the process. Detaching is a huge part of the change process. Then there are the changes we can make within ourselves. These changes  can all be mastered (a day at a time)  by working the 12 Steps,particularly Step 1,2,and 3 and subsequently  by turning our full attention to Step 4 . We must work Step 4 until we can’t go on and then we must work it all over again. The key to our success lies within Step 4 and extends ultimately  thru Step 9. This is where the guidelines for  the long process of change reside. They  are ours for the taking,but accomplishing  change within is a long road; and as with most roadwork  we need  to be prepared for  backbreaking  effort. Change does  not fall out of the sky. We must really want to change and we must be willing to work hard at the process.  We need to see that we can be much different and much  better people through this process of change. And  with these changes we can utilize  the tools that let us cross the  dark chasm of Despair more quickly ,rather than wandering in the depths of the chasm for years-perhaps a lifetime. Curiously,the more we change,the more we  actually repair the tattered bridges  across the chasm ,so that others may follow a bit more easily by our example. Perhaps some day we may find our addicts crossing  by the same paths.
None of this is easy. After working for 22 years on Change,I know how tough it can be. However I have learned there is no other path across the Chasm,and without change we can never find Serenity. While it would be easy to make this journey sound quick and  staightforward,that  would be terribly misleading and could generate endless discouragement.  Change is really tough,but incredibly necessary if you want to get better and if you want  to reach Serenity. Additionally and perhaps most important, when we change, we open a door for the addict to change. He/She  may or may not accept the invitation for months or years;but the door is open. Conversely,my experience has taught me that if we don’t change. the addict does not have a chance of getting better.

In closing I will reiterate what I learned from my son and many others in good recovery: Everone of them said “I went into recovery  when I fully  understood there was no one left to save me; I could only  save myself.” The power of Change is truly extraordinary!


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Part 5: The 12 steps

                                                                The Steps and a Few  Missteps

The 12 Steps were written with great  effort and reflect enormous  wisdom. They have been the keystone of recovery since the early 1930s when they were published by AA. From many years of meeting and from numerous attempts to work the steps myself,I developed a somewhat different approach to the Steps which I would like to share in this article. I recognized perhaps 10 years ago that there is an aversion to working the steps in FA or at least working them seriously. Reading and rereading does not do the trick. The steps don’t drop into our hearts from the sky. They require real effort. And I think they require a shift in perspective to make them appeal to revering families in the 21st century.

When we do our Step meeting monthly,I introduce the Steps within the time frame during which they first were published. I also emphasize that they were written for AA and that we need to broaden our perceptions of exactly what they mean to us.I try to group the steps in to 3 categories:1-3,4-9,and 10-12. Our members do understand the they appear in their order for a reason;they were not randomly. I also urge our group to try to see  some of the the language differently because use of words has changed over the past 70 years. I also urge our members to find reasons to work the Steps regularly;many of us look for reasons not to work them because they appear so difficult. We discuss that fact the the Steps change; every time we grow spiritually we understand more of the meaning. Understanding the Steps is a life’s work. In the beginnning we read them and reread them without really have them get inside  us. Additionally many of our members are not at all spiritual  and some do not believe in God . This presents a real challenge to accept Steps which refer to God or the  Higher Power. Consequently many of the group look to the GROUP itself as the Higher Power;those with some spiritual background can translate this effective concept to the Higher Power doing it’s work through the group. This approach keeps many members from hitting a stone wall when working certain steps.

Steps 1,2,3
These steps have been summarized:”I can’t do it;someone else can;I will turn it over to the one who can”. I sounds so simple when read. However as we have discussed many times,accepting powerlessness is a real challenge and requires a great deal of maturity to accomplish. Step 2 bring us to the problem of accepting the existence of God or finding another higher Power who can help us. I referred earlier to how many in our group finally accomplish this feat. For those of us who are truly religious and/or  have a connection with their God, this step is infinitely easier to carry out. For those of us who don’t have this connection,finding and accepting the Higher Power is a lengthy struggle
Step 3 is the place where letting go come into play. That is exactly what 3 states. We need to turn it over. We need to let the Higher Power take on the role we have been attempting to fill for years. If we can do this,then we get a chance to focus on ourselves. This transformation is necessary to move on to Steps 4-9.

Steps 4-9
Step 4 requires us to finally take that ling careful look beyond the mirror and inside ourselves. If 3 has empowered us to look after ourselves ,then we are at least prepared to undertake 4. But looking inside can be brutal if we are honest. There will be many things we do not like within-but the Step wants us to use a balanced sheet of what is good and can be improved upon as well  what we want to cast off. If we view 4 as only looking for the bad within,we can never work I successfully. That is too painful! So we need to find good and bad and work with both.

Steps 5 -9 provide a framework for us to make change. We need to go thru certain mechanisms to make change really happen. We need to work with our Higher power and People we can trust. But unlike the exact way the steps are written we must take an active role in this process. No one can change us but ourselves in the long run. Always remember-God moves mountains but it helps to bring a shovel”. This view is definitely different from the exact wording of the Steps themselves and I am sure very far afield from how many recovering groups  look at this group of Steps. I have found over the years that our members need to look at this part of the process differently to make it reach into them and push them to take personal action. My approach to Step 9 is also different. I agree that amends are important ,but I see more in Step  9 than amends. I see a personal transformation ,a spiritual maturation ,and a humble awakening  to the new person we strive to become. My personal perception is that 4-9 are about change within us. It happens very slowly and may take 10 years for us to become different. Old habits die hard;we all know that.How many times have we heard”you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? I do not believe that is tue. I know we can all change. We have to be ready and we have to be willing. READY AND WILLING!!! That is the real hard stuff in this program. I would like to make another comment on amends before closing this section. Here we come to a real possible misstep in deciding who deserves amends and who is READY for amends. As to Who,we must put ourselves high on the list along with other family members,especially the cellophane children. As to readiness ,my experience has taught me that making amends to the addict too soon is a huge mistake. The addict deserves our amends but only when he/she is in good recovery-not before that time. Like everything else that we do involving the recovering person,there is no rush to make amends. And without change we keep making amends to the same people for the same reasons,over and over.

Steps 10-12

I call these 3 steps  the “maturation” steps. Some sound really easy,but they can be awful  landmines in our road to recovery. As steps requiring real progress in our journey,they take a long time to accomplish.Step 10 give us the right ,in my view to see what is wrong and change it without delays. And without needing to check with anyone. We have reached a level of confidance(but always tempered with humility) so they we do not need to look over our shoulder prior to every correction. 10 reflects the release to move on our own. Step 11(my favorite) is very complex. 11 takes us from a child’s view of the world and God ,to a mature adult’s view of Him/Her. We now understand that prayer is not about a list of requests. It is not about begging God to do our will. Step 11 is about listening, about humility,and and ultimately about receiving  an understanding of God’s will for us. This is the ultimate reward for our hard work. When we are ready ,Step 11 will guide to  a  place we never dreamed possible. For those who read the Bible, I urge you reread God’s declamation just prior to the conclusion of the Book of Job . If you see the purpose of that declamation,then you will have a much better understanding of what Step 11 can do for us. Step 12 has two very important parts. I did not understand the first part- “having had a spiritual awakening” and why it was so critical  to “carrying the message”. I thought carrying the message was the real crux of the step. However you really can’t seriously  carry the message without the prior spiritual awakening,. And this is the point of a second major misstep. I have seen many members who can regurgitate the message of the steps and think they can carry it to  others without any change in themselves. That approach, which I fear is common,leads to failure to make any progress in the program. The idea that an individual can carry the message without previously  undergoing some  spiritual awakening,I believe, is a fallacy. That is not carrying the message;it is self delusion ;ie failing to recognize that nothing from the FA program has gotten inside of us. Instead we want a pat on the back for  spouting the message as a  substitute for doing the real work in the program. I have seen this happen repeatedly. Some of the worst failures in our program occurred in people who thought they could carry the message, instead of working the program .
I know there are many more potential stumbling blocks in working the Steps,but I feel that the two I referred to  in this article are the among  most common and the most subtle.

Mort K Group 1318