Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Examine Your Axioms

I am probably going to open up a whole can full of worms with this post but worms are good for fishing so if the comments get too hot, I’m going fishing. ;-)

Over and over it is repeated about addicts; you cannot make a person get clean. Addicts get clean when they want it for themselves. I believe there is enough truth in that statement that it has become the accepted knowledge. However, I do not believe that is the driving force for many addicts to give up their life of drugs. Sure there are some addicts living a life of homelessness with absolutely no one to call on that eventually clean-up based upon a desire that is wholly internally driven. From my experience that is not the norm.

My proposition as it relates to young addicts based upon personal observations: Younger addicts need role models, mentors, loved ones or sponsors as a key component of recovery. They get clean because of, or for someone else, they maintain their sobriety for themselves and the fear of losing a love or respect of those people that replace the void a drug has filled.

The rationalization for my theory follows much cognitive dissonance in my own analysis of the behaviors and observations of young addicts that remain addicted and those that have lived an extended time drug free that are now older adults. This is not a study that examined mountains of empirical evidence, these are my conclusions based upon anecdotal evidence gathered in discussion and observations. In reading this, remember the source, I am not a scholar or professional in this subject, I am just a father of an addict trying to make sense of insanity.

Why would an addict decide to or even want to get clean and give up using? I have never taken drugs in an illegal way to get high or whatever. I can only guess what it is like based upon others descriptions. What I am told about getting high, it is good, it is real good, I’ve been told imagine this, it is like 100 orgasms throughout your whole body. The feeling is over and over it is there whenever you want. Now, truth is why would anyone not want that once it has been experienced? Why would someone give that up experience voluntarily? As an addict why am I expected to give up an experience that in my life is as essential to my brain as food, water, oxygen and procreation?

My conclusion is without someone or something to fill that void it is highly unlikely, that any addict would give up their drug. In fact, I can rationalize that there is no reason any addict would give up their drug of choice without that “something” either real or spiritual, to fill the void.

Based upon my above mentioned conclusion my son’s only hope in living a life free of mind altering drugs is to have someone or something to fill the void of abstinence from drugs. A profound experience is required as a first step. And that is only a first step not the whole solution.

With that it begs the question, what is the role of a parent, significant other, friend or child?

My son’s addiction is by far the most complex issue I have faced in my life. In dealing with this issue as a parent you grasp at whatever straw, lifeline or sliver of hope you can find. I don’t believe this is wrong; this just is the way it is. Without doing these things you will not grow and learn. As adults and parents we grow and learn through experience. With your own child drowning in the crisis of addiction it is unlikely we will learn from experiences we had not personally tried. There is a tough learning curve we all must experience and some round the curve quickly and some not so quick but there is no cutting the corner. There are proven processes in this path but there is no step by step formula to insure success either for the addict or the person who is a loved one of the addict.

It is my belief that love is one of the most basic and strongest of human emotions. This is the emotion that ensures the survival of our species. Anyone can procreate but without a love bond between a mother, parents or caregiver of a child there is no survival for that infant. As such, without that continuing love for the addicted young adult I believe survival is a marginal proposition, at best.

Love does not mean enable. Love does not mean remove all the pain and misery in your addict’s life. Love does not mean you give up your life at the expense of loving an addicted child. Love means being there, it means not abandoning your addict emotionally. It may be that your child cannot live in your home but that doesn’t mean you do not try to empathize with their pain and fear. It just means you set good boundaries for yourself but be sure you show your child where the gate is on the boundary so they know how to enter your life safely. Do not put locks on the gate.

As parents we develop problem solving skills that continue to evolve to a higher level as we age and accumulate life experiences. A young person that becomes addicted does not have that knowledge in which to draw. I believe someone or something must be the light at the end of the tunnel. Otherwise the darkness will swallow a young person and lost is an outcome, not a current state of being.

A young adult does not have the life experience to find their way out of the morass of addiction. Abandoning your child physically and emotionally is a path some choose but that leaves your addicted child to wander aimlessly in the darkness, some find the exit but many do not. But sometimes that path for a parent or loved one is necessary for self preservation; each family situation is unique and must be handled in context. That is why I believe there is no cookie cutter program that fits every family and every situation, no step by step recipe for success just a group of processes that have proven to be successful for individuals and families in the past.

Now for a harsh reality I have come to accept and am just now beginning to understand. Every addict I have talked to or read about that was addicted as a young adult, not one of them got clean because of Dad and Mom. That’s a hard pill to swallow for this parent.

But when I speak to addicts that have come out the other side about getting clean they spoke of someone or something as the driving force that drove their efforts in recovery.

Sometimes for dumb old me to grasp a concept I have to create analogies to my situation. Hench some of the other ones you have read on my blog, like the “sidewalk of life”. So, as my son drives along his road to recovery I must accept that no matter how much I love him and want him to succeed I am not the driver, I am not the car, I am not the highway or road. At most, I may simply be a gas station along the road. Sometimes he may stop for fuel and sometimes the fuel gauge may read full and he passes me by. That is not a reflection of his love for us as parents or our role in his recovery, it just means there are days he needs fuel and some days his tank is full. My role is to have fuel when he needs it and for the sign outside to always read “OPEN”.

I never know what kind of fuel he may need, emotional, physical or spiritual. So if his tank needs to be topped off with an “I love you, I believe in you” or simply a dinner on Friday night that is the new role of this dad of an addict.


BMelonsLemonade said...

As a recovered addict, I am going to agree with your sentiments here. But, I do want to add a few things from my own experience. It was not Mom and Dad that were the reason I got clean, but they ARE one of the most important reasons I stay clean. My son is the other reason. Furthermore, I want parents to know this as well...even if my parents had done many things differently, the outcome would still be the same. Their action or inaction would have not changed my path of addiction. It took me years of being clean to realize this. There was nothing anyone could have done, especially Mom and Dad.
I was in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and most of the addicts I used to hang out with also remained in the city. How could we leave? We were broke and did not have enough dope to leave the city for even a couple of days. One interesting thing I have observed...many of the addicts I knew who remained in the city are clean today. I hear the grim statistics that state how few addicts really do get clean, and I have to say this is not the experience I have seen. Is it the experience of Katrina made so many of us realize how precious life really is? Or was such a trauma a driving force to get clean? I am not sure, but what I do know is that storm changed my life forever. And for the better. It took a while to sort it all out, and things got worse before they finally got better. The same is true for so many other addicts I know who also weathered that Hurricane in New Orleans. Interestingly, many of my friends who left the city for Katrina are still addicted.
The point is that something has to happen to change an addict's path. It can be simple, or it can be disasterous(and often is). As you said, it is rarely that we just want to quit getting high. The key though, is what keeps the sobriety in place once it is found. That is really the hard part.
My parents have been vital in my staying clean. During my addiction, my parents distanced themselves from me, just as I distanced myself from them. I think it was easier for both of us this way. When I ended up in jail and promised to get clean, my parents did not bail me out. But, they did accept every single expensive collect call. Once I got out, and proved to them that I was serious about getting my life back on track...they became my biggest supporters. Five years later, I would not go back to using for so many reasons but mostly because it would disappiont them so much, and that is the last thing I want to do. I am so thankful that they trust me again, and I really missed them when I was so far gone. I am blessed to have them back in my life. I am a mother now myself, and I understand a little of their anguish. My son is the most important reason to stay clean. I want the best for him, and it is now the most important thing to me. I am thankful I had been clean for almost four years when he was born. I have to be able to give him everything that my parents have given me. I was raised that way. I may have lost my way for a while, but the teachings and support of my parents is what keeps me here today. Without them, I am not sure what would have become of me. I am blessed with wonderful parents who did not enable, but loved unconditionally instead.

Wait. What? said...

My son is coming home from rehab in 2 weeks and this post does make me think. I never fooled myself enough to believe that he would be changing for me or my husband, but like his father I had hoped he would hit a low, so far down that he would have no other choice but to re-evaluate his own choices and change his way of thinking, and behaving.

I can hope this rehab visit the past 5 months is that low, but honestly, how can a parent know this? My son is 18, graduated with his GED while away and is tasting what it feels like to be successful for the first time as a teenager and I hope, that that - taste of what the other side of life is all about, I hope that hooks him in and helps him stay clean.

I need to chew on this post more to understand where exactly my opinion lays though...

Very thought provoking.

Dad and Mom said...


You put into real life everything I was trying to explain in my learnings. Dad and Mom cannot make you clean but they are an influence in your sobriety.

A profound experience entered your life that was the something that drove your decision.

You are clean now becasue your daughter, you are her role model and your Dad and Mom NEVER gave up on you and their love has a role in your life today.

Wonderful testimony, thank you.

Syd said...

Everything I read and hear about in meetings speaks of a power greater than me or another. The spiritual malady has to be considered. Most of those in recovery share that they were driven to their knees and finally surrendered. And once they surrendered, they became willing to believe in the steps, the program, recovery, and a power greater than themselves. That is what I hear and what I have felt myself, not as an addict to drugs, but as a person who was addicted to other people.

Anonymous said...

umm I am somewhat confused...I am the mom of an addict that is not in recovery. I love her with all my heart...but she is very verbally abusive to me if I don't give her what she wants like money. She never comes by or calls unless she wants something. I might add she was never like this when she was in recovery. to not put a lock on the gate is hard for me as her words are ever so hurtful...like if she calls me for money I say no and she just keeps it up and up saying nasty hateful things till I hang up on her, and she doesn't stop then she will call 20 times one right after another (I don't answer). A simple I love you or I am hear for you is so not what she wants from me. Truthful I have stopped enabling her but I don't know how to be there for her...Its all so sad to me

Annette said...

To Anonymous: sometimes doing nothing is the best form of "being there" you can offer.

Syd, my thoughts exactly! Coming to a place of surrender is critical in my experience. Like Syd I was/am addicted to people and meeting their needs. My relationship with my Higher Power is critical to my being a healthy individual. I came to realize that I was living a parallel life with my addict daughter. Just as she needed to surrender her will, so did I! Just as she relied upon external negatives that motivated her, so did I! Realizing that she and I weren't all that different from each other...we just have different addictive behaviors, was very humbling and helped me to really love her where she was at.

I had a counselor tell me once that what will make things better for her will probably have nothing to do with me. That was a new concept for me. I truly believed I was her mom....I would make this better. Again, that was a turning point for me, to acknowledge that her healing would occur in spite of me and my best efforts....when she was ready to accept it and to take the steps to nurture it.

I really like what Syd said about the spiritual malady of addiction. I really do believe that is a key part of the puzzle. When we can connect with our Higher Power and be open to the idea that our willfulness could quite possibly lead to our own detriment, that we don't have all of the answers, and that a life of faith is available to us if we can surrender our will and begin to trust in a power greater than ourselves. I have found a lot of comfort in that place.

Great post Ron! Lots of good things to think on here. Thanks for sharing.

Dad and Mom said...

Dear Anonymous,

Money doesn't buy love or sobriety, I'll testify to that because I tried that strategy.

A good boundary has a good gate with a fine tough latch. Your daughter may need to be allowed through the gate only on your conditions. Make sure she knows your boundary and I'd make sure she knows your love is unconditional but your wallet is NOT her wallet and it will remain in your possession. A call for money will not be received positively not one call or not twenty.

Our children will not get clean on our timetable. I only wish I could predict when it is their time. Because we cannot know when the time is I would continue telling her how you feel and that you love her and will be there when she needs you. But during that time of waiting and hoping you MUST take care of yourself first.

Be strong.

Anna said...

Thank you all for sharing these insights. I learn so much from you. These are complex issues with no easy answers. I loved the example where the parents would not bail the girl out of jail but accepted every expensive collect call.

Once while quite determined not to enable my daughter I let her car be repossesed. She did not pay due to drugging. I had the money but I let her take the consequences. While waiting for that car to be repossesed, I saw that her breaks were terrible. She had not money to fix the breaks, it was her own car so I could not confiscate it. I fixed the breaks. The car was reposessed two weeks later.

beachteacher said...

This has been some good food for thought, especially tonight. Our son, who does live at home and recently has been doing better..started comm. college and seems motivated,...took his drum set out of his room,...saying (via text) that he was taking them to jam at his friend's house. All of my antennas are up,..and I have an awful feeling that he's pawned them. He waited years for those drums(worked & saved)and part were Christmas gifts....altogether about $2000 worth,...he's LOVED them. Ugh...the drums are obviously not the real issue,...I am just sick that he's "at it" again. I don't know,...but I am almost sure. I don't know what it will take for him, nor even if we should now make him leave,...if we do find that he's pawned them for drugs. I'm just babbling here...forgive me.

Dad and Mom said...

Dear Beachteacher,

I love you and I love you living here. I cannot allow drugs in my home and I will not live with an addict that is actively using. I will support and encourage recovery in every way I can, I will not enable your using.

Your life is yours to live how you wish just as my life is mine. How do you wish to live your life

Is this one of your boundaries?

It took me over 5 years to learn what boundaries actually are and that they are not rules.

ps.: there is nothing to forgive in your post. I am immensely grateful that you wrote.

Anonymous said...

Dad and Mom...I don't know you from the man in the moon. But I wish I did. Personally, face to face. My husband and I have so much in common with you and your wife. We can relate to you on every issue that you have, and are going thru. Hoping and praying for the best for your son, and ours also.
From Northwest Arkansas

Mariah's Mom said...

Can of worms? This is one of your finest posts ever, Dad! So many good people just trying to do the right thing. I am in such good company when I visit here. Thank you. Can you use other bait besides worms?

beachteacher said...

Thank you Dad. And yes,...we have put him out of our home before,...more than once. He's not bringing drugs into our house anymore as far as we can tell,...and we're very skilled at knowing after 4 yr.s and so much experience with this.However, that certainly doesn't mean that he's not using. We may be now putting him out of the house again. I'm not positive about his possible usage, but as you well know, it quickly becomes obvious. Sigh. I am commenting again just to thank you for your reply to me. Your post was very good. It's just hard to know how to separate out the support and love vs. enabling. As you have said, for each of us it's not the same and it goes by what's happening in the situation. However, not living with a using addict is certainly a valid boundary,..thanks again.

Dad 4 Truth said...

Our "addicted" children will not find permanent recovery until the consequences they experience from the disease of addiction becomes more painful than staying clean and/or sober.

The role of parents' is to stay out of their way, let them know they are loved, forgiven and are welcomed back into the family when they accept recovery. Stay focused on hope, it is vital.

The primary role for parents' of "young addicts" is to intervene early and often.

There are successful "paths" for family recovery which have proved successful for the "greatest number" of families and/or their addicted loved ones. For example: AA, Al-Anon, Seeing a certified alcohol/drug Counselor, formal interventions, continual education on addiction and key is grieving the loss of the child of your dreams, to name a few.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dad 4 Truth. Parents of "young addicts" need to intervene early.

My 19yr old son has been clean for 9 months and I attribute his success to prayer, support from other parents going through similar problems and EARLY intervention.

When my husband and I first noticed changes in our son's behavior, we joined the support group StandUp Parenting (standupparenting.org). The support group got his dad and I on the same page and we started "raising the bottom" TOGETHER - a powerful weapon against drug addiction.

We had suspected our son was addicted to marijuana and I had always heard it was a gateway drug. As we raised the bottom (an extremely hard thing to do without support) I watched him closely and had a gut feeling that things were changing and they had.

I remember being told...that if you find one pill, don't wait to do something because there are probably more hidden some place else. I didn't wait...that night his Dad and I got together "negotiated" a plan. The outcome...we agreed to seek a professional for advice.

Through an early formal intervention, we discovered our son had moved to oxycodone a few months earlier. I think (but don't know for sure) recovery for him has been "less of a struggle" because we intervened EARLY.

He was in treatment for 90 days. At 30 days he was just beginning to show progress.

With a clearer mind in recovery, he was introduced to the term "unconditional love" -- believe in it and believe in himself. Thank you God.

jackandaisy said...


what an excellent post. i especially love the last paragraph. perfect.


Tori said...

What a great post! I haven't been seeing the Therapist (Cliff) that was working with B and I for a few months now but, he was the driving force behind us offering B rehab or the street. Cliff warned me that he didn't think B would go to Rehab but it was crucial for us to remove him from our home. Anyway, Cliff checks in with me every month or so and called yesterday. I caught him up with all the latest and he reminded me what we were doing was the best for B. However, Cliff said, "He is also a child with very low self esteem and always needs us to tell him we love him and when he does something good we need to praise him - like you would a young boy". Cliff ended our call with, "boundaries, not enabling and loving an addict can be very complicated." Yes, it can. Thank you for your thought provoking post. I agree with you 100%.

A Mom's Serious Blunder said...

I just wanted to let you know how much your blog has personally impacted my life. I find myself OFTEN thinking before I speak or reacting in all things "addiction". I actually think to myself..."ok stop for a second, what would Ron say about this situation?" If my husband could hear my thoughts, he would wonder 1. Who the hell is Ron? and 2. Why does my wife think of him so fondly and so often. I'm just sayin'...

Her Big Sad said...

I love your analogies! This post was thought provoking - one of your best. I'm filing the "gas station" analogy away in my brain, beside the "sidewalk" analogy. Thanks!!

P.S. I saw some gorgeous woodwork at the recent O.C. Fair. I will send you some pix soon. Are you working on anything special in the wood shop these days?

Anonymous said...

As a newcomer to this site I wanted to thank you for your honest, soul wrenching experiences. I am the mother of what used to be a beautiful, bright, promising 17 year old. She has become a crafty, drug seeking, unwelcome young woman.

My step-daughter and her infant daughter moved into my home two years ago. She was 27 at the time. Apparently, she was a heroin user, and stole everything I owned to support her habit. She introduced my daughter (her 15 year old half-sister) to her habit too.

My life has since turned into a living hell. My daughter, now a full blown drug addict herself has been rehabed six times. Two of them in 28 day programs, and four of them in out-patient. Since she is a minor, I am responsible for her bills, transportation, etc.

This roller coaster ride, aka addiction, has not only ruined my daughter's life.....it has destroyed mine too.

Social stigma keeps us from talking about "these situations"....however, drug overdoses here in the state of Ct are the leading cause of death in young people. They even surpass motor vehicle accidents.

Continue your good work.

The Interventionist said...

Great Post, Dad!
I agree with you that a young addicts need a mentor. After many years working with teens and young adults, I do not know of any specific technique that gets them sober, and I do not follow those axioms that we accept as true without some critical exploration.
A few years back I read a book called "Film Club" about a father and son. The father, utterly frustrated by his son's disinterest in school, finally threw in the towel and let him stay home with some basic rules and the stipulation that the two of them watch two movies a week and discuss them
Now, this is no how-to manual. But what it is is an exploration of a developing and evolving relationship between a troubled boy and his father. And that, is what I think ultimately get kids to get it together. An ongoing relation with a caring adult who is going to hold them accountable while accepting them as they are.
Yjay's my two bits--thanks!

Cheri said...

You said: "My role [as a parent] is to have fuel when he needs it and for the sign outside to always read “OPEN”."

That is so true. There is a fine line between being "open" and enabling, and I suspect it follows different patterns with each individual family and their specific personalities.

You have posted much food for thought here. I agree there is no cookie-cutter solution. I also agree that an addict takes drugs to fill a need, and until there is something else to fill that need, the addict will continue to take drugs.

We have two sons who abused drugs. The oldest definitely didn't clean up his act for his dad or me; he did it for his wife and kids. His younger brother did it because he had reached the place where he couldn't live at home anymore and found himself in rehab. We visited every time we were allowed to and we were "open" for him. Like your first commenter said of himself, I believe he now stays clean in part for us, in part for himself, and mostly because he has found his needs for significance filled in his relationship with Christ.


Anonymous said...

Having exhausted my resources - financial, emotional and otherwise - I have again kicked my drug addicted 19 y/o out of the house. He has been through therapy, IOP, 12-months of residential rehab, in juvenile detention and the psych ward. The sobbing phone calls are tearing me apart. Even if he wants to get clean, I don't know where to tell him to go. He is uninsured and I am out of money. Can someone provide direction on this? He has nowhere to live, has been fired from him job and has overstayed his welcome at the homes of his so-called "friends." I'm feeling really lost...

Cheri said...


We had to kick our son out at 19, and he went through the Teen Challenge program. They asked us to pay a $500 admissions fee, but after that they asked for no fees. They are a faith-based residential rehab program with locations in all 50 states. The program is "voluntary," meaning the addict has to agree to sign himself in and they won't keep them against their will. You can check them out at this link: http://teenchallengeusa.com/ Each facility operates according to their board of directors' decisions, but all are run similarly.

Our son was there for eighteen months, and he now works for them on weekends while attending college. He has been sober for four years now.

If you'd like to contact me for more info, you can reach me at cheri@cherihardaway.com

Praying for you,

PS - As all parents of addicts realize, there are no one-size-fits-all answers, but this was the one that worked for our family.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info, Cheri. I had their crisis hotline number on a pad by the phone. Looks like they have a couple of houses within a few hours of where we live.

I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my post. So glad to know you found a solution that worked for your family.



1Mom said...

Thanks so much for your blog and for sharing others comments too. I'm learning a lot about how to handle my son's drug use.