Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Observable Behaviors

I was going to leave a comment on my last post in a response to readers comments but then I began thinking this is too important for a comment so I am going to write about how "Dear Enabling Mom and Dad" made me feel.

When I first read that letter written by a mom trying to make sense of her addicted son's behaviors I was uncomfortable. In fact I just kind of scanned it, but something pulled me back, and again and again I read it and finally after about the fifth time the light came on for me. This make believe letter written by this mom is five years of my life dealing with my son. She nailed it all. She put into words what I was experiencing, the disconnect between what I wanted to believe and what was really happening.

I am going to try and explain how I got to this and maybe what has guided me to this point.

In my career I was once a internal and an external consultant on work system design. Designing how people work together and the systems that enable people to work.

Pause for a joke: Do you know what a pigeon and a consultant have in common? They both fly in, eat your food, shit all over you and then fly away.

Back to my point when I would begin a project I would usually get the management team together and ask, "Why are you doing this?" Invariably someone would get around to saying, "It's their attitude!" Speaking of plant workers. Then I would meet with the union reps and plant workers, the funny thing is the answers were the same, "It's the way they treat us and their attitude."

My response was always. Attitudes are problems you have with yourself. I can't deal with attitudes. If you expect me to change attitudes I QUIT. I only deal in observable behaviors. Give me observable behaviors and we can work on the conditions that create those behaviors but attitudes and beliefs belong to YOU not someone else.

The mom that wrote the make believe letter from her son to herself was dealing in observable behaviors and using her experiences to make sense of illogical behaviors in an illogical world. To not be an enabling parent you must deal with observable behaviors not "attitudes" and "why's". I spent many years trying to figure out the "why" of my son's addiction because I knew if I understood the why I could fix the problem. All the time I was enabling and working on the wrong thing, hell I wasn't even playing in the same park so how could I fix it.

When I read that letter I began to connect five years of my son's addiction and my enabling to exactly what she wrote.

My son would tell us how bad he wanted to stop using but within an hour his druggie buddies would show up at our door and he would leave with them.

We got our son checked into a rehab 40 miles from our home. On his fifth morning there we got a call from his counselor telling us he was getting kicked out for using. He had friends bring him oxycontin to him in the rehab. He was kicked out, but before the sun set that evening we had him in another rehab facility 350 miles away from our home. Our son met people in rehab and NA meetings that he eventually wound up doing drugs with and buying drugs from them.

We didn't kick him out because it was cold outside, even though we had threatened too.

He didn't work, couldn't get a job because he failed drug tests. So he did just stay at home and slept all day and used all night. We were afraid to go to bed with him up.

Mom told me several times she was afraid of our son and his friends. She was afraid he or his friends may hurt us if we got between his drugs and him.

Our son was the boss of our life. We did things we would have never done because of his addiction and drugs.

There is a hole in the wall in the stairwell going down to the basement. Our son did not punch that hole in the wall, I did. I was so angry because I had just discovered he had stolen several of my woodworking tools to sell and pawn to buy drugs. I have NOT patched that hole even though I could do it in 30 minutes. This hole is a physical reminder to ME that I must be in control of ME. However, there are spoon soot stains on the carpet and walls of his old bedroom that we tried our damnest to get rid of every time we found them.

Despite all of these observable behaviors we continued to work on the wrong thing, him. Despite all of my training and consulting I enabled and tried to fix his attitude and worried about the why.

The mom that wrote that letter from her son's perspective found a way to look at the observable behaviors and then she is able to deal with the real problem. For me her method was genius. Harsh but genius.

Finally, to the addicts and alcoholics that commented about she was so wrong in what she said the addict thinks. I respect your comments, I believe you still love your parents all through your using and do not think of them as suckers. There is nothing more important than hearing from those that are able to articulate what it is like suffering from the disease. But just as we struggle with you and the effects of your dependency on drugs or alcohol you need to look at the effect your disease has on us parents. It's called unconditional love and with that sometimes we suffer incalculable pain. This is a mom releasing some of the pain.

Especially to the addicts and alcoholics that suffer with this disease and exhibit the behaviors that cause us parents to get to the point of writing something like this make believe letter. We do love you. We will always love you, you don't have to worry about that. That love is what ensures the survival of our species and of us personally. The thing you must worry the most about is when your parents stop believing in you.


Syd said...

I am glad that you posted this. I think that the journey you have had and the changes you both have made to take back your own lives has helped your son and perhaps saved his life.

Reenie said...

I read your blog because it helps me understand what my parents went through, for my brother who is an addict. I left home about 2 years back- I got married and started to save for my education which I wasn't able to when I was home. My brother would steal all my money and use it on drugs.

Thank you, Ron. For giving me a chance to see their side of the story.

Anonymous said...

I find it so interesting that as parents, we must strive to be unconditional lovers and patient caregivers as we are being lied to, stolen from, disrespected, taken for granted, and the recipients of broken hearts. Geeesh, I completely get the anger, the hurt, the betrayal, I get it all. Let's try to show compassion not only to the addicts but to those who have been hurt by them. Frankly, I agree with Ron...that fictitious letter was genius.

beachteacher said...

That's why I said what I did to rang true for us in many ways....awful as that is. And yes...the holes...ugh. My husband got to be quite adept at hanging new bedroom doors...for he did 3 or 4 altogether from that bad time period...very bad. (One, he, my husband, actually broke down to our son's room once....awful awful times.) And the comment about the particular drug causing different types of behavior....the vacant eyes...anger, true. Not the person you knew. :( And terrible as this as can be...Barbara's comment about having the hole in the door big enough to now look in a see what he's doing in there.......thanks Barbara. Sometimes we still have to smile about all of this very un-funny stuff. I think the fictitious letter was pretty amazing overall.

Athena said...

These last two posts have been very thought provoking, and I think you and the comments here have it nailed - I think any one of us parents could have identical written "imaginary letter" on the bad days of dealing with our children's addiction. Adult addicted children can be EXTREMELY manipulative - They don't want to hurt anyone, but they do.

BMelonsLemonade said...

I am just thankful I did not really speak to my parents for most of the years I used. I have a lot of regret for being out of their lives for so many years. I regret that they worried whether I was even alive, especially when once we did not speak for well over a year. But, reading these last two posts...I guess I could have done much worse to them. My abscence was bad enough, but I guess it could have been much worse.

Barbara said...

Ron, first of all - LOL at the joke :)

Second, I am glad I am not the only one who could relate to what this mom wrote. My son has told me to my face that he can make me do whatever he wants, that he controls our family and that he can find anything we hide to steal (of course he was high when he said all this, kind of bragging to me about it). I feel that he lost respect for me because I allowed him to get away with so much. I've changed almost everything in the way I deal with him. He even has the judge and his PO in the palm of his hand as far as I can tell - and they should know better!

It hurts, humiliates and scares me that he is so much like the son in the fictitious note. I hate to admit it, but its very true.

Anonymous said...

I am going through these stages with my 21yr old son who mostly chooses xanax as his drug but also alcohol and pain killers..anything to dull the feeling. I have to say i know i have not been down the same road yet regarding near death experiences but i definitely don't discount the very real possibility. What i do relate to is the wrenching fear and pain Ron mentions and i think the mother was eloquent in her description of that very pain. I feel the same way and i feel my heart break every time these thoughts come into my head. Never could I imagine the pain and sorrow my husband and I were to have to bear along with the anger and frustration of watching our beloved son spiral more and more out of control. Reading these blogs is like therapy for mr and is a balm for my heart. Thank you Ron and all for sharing your paths with me. I don't feel so alone. The letter confirmed that i wasn't alone in my thoughts.

Guinevere said...

I respect all that's been said, including the contents of the fictitious letter... though I'm not sure I'd have chosen to post something like that on the Internet. However, it seems to have brought solace to some people, and some understanding to others, so perhaps in that way it's doing some good... I've been taught to bear in mind that bitterness and resentment kill (not just in addicts, but also in non addicts) and that the best thing to do is to release these in a way that will risk hurting no one.

Agree with Ron about behaviors v. attitudes... When I got sober, my husband told me he was looking at my behaviors.

Also need to say that, while Ron and his wife others here may be exemplary, not all parents of addicts love unconditionally. I believe many do, and it's this desire to show unconditional love that creates such agony for the parents... There's nothing more natural in a parent (in a "normal" parent, I guess I could say) than to want to show your kid love no matter what s/he does. ... Addiction is a family disease though... And the kind of family disease I experienced--the parenting was far from unconditional. Let's just say that much. ... And I was the kind of addict who used drugs and alcohol not to make myself larger, but to minimize myself, eventually to put myself to sleep (as with a dog), so I could forget all that. My recovery has been about humility, right-sizing--getting bigger, owning a voice...

The big book says that the alcoholic is like a hurricane, roaring through others' lives. Hurricanes come at different strengths, right? Some are Katrinas and Hugos, and some, when they hit land (or even before), turn into tropical storms, shed their rain, and dissipate pretty quickly.