I Can’t Control It
Control. Behind the wheel of an automobile, it’s a good thing, but when we are trying to exert control in our relationships, it’s a different story. It’s an ever-changing story when it comes to children. We are initially in control, their teachers and caretakers, the initial source of influence in what we hope will become their own decision-making processes.
Eventually, we need to relinquish that control, to give our children the freedom to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes, which is a natural part of growing up. For those of us whose children have derailed their lives on the tracks of addiction, relinquishing control causes us fear and anxiety.
One day I got a phone call from my son’s teacher, who was extremely concerned about him. He was falling asleep in class and showing physical signs of substance abuse. I took her concerns seriously, and I realized I needed to go through my home and find out what was going on that I had not been noticing. I was accustomed to giving my son complete privacy in his room, which unbeknownst to me he was abusing.
My search appalled me; I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. I found drug paraphernalia hidden in the back of his speakers, pills hidden in the handle of his lacrosse stick, and a small bag of weed taped to the bottom of his dresser drawer. I can’t tell you how much I cried and vomited. I felt like I was spinning out of control, panic stricken, like there was no way I could get a handle on this terrible situation that I never saw coming.
I was sick with fear. My mind raced to every dark place imaginable. My home could be the target of a drive-by shooting; my son could go to jail, be shot, or overdose. My head was spinning with consequences I could not help him with or save him from. I was the grown-up, but I didn’t have the first, dimmest clue about what to do.
When my son came home that day, I confronted him. As I pointed out in Part One of this essay series, I did not handle it very well. He admitted he had been abusing since he was 12, and now I believed he would not live to see his 16th birthday. The beginning, which seemed very innocent to my son, began in middle school when a ‘buddy’ offered him something to make him feel better. I did not realize or believe it, but this is the point at which control was taken from me, as my son’s growing fondness for escape and self-medication slowly grew into an addiction to marijuana, alcohol and opiates. Although he made the choice to try that first hit, addiction was not a choice either of us consciously made.
I realized this problem was too big for the kind of parental guidance I had used in the past. To try to discipline him, I took away electronics, or forbade him to see his friends or leave the house while I was at work. In defiance, he would sneak out at night when I was asleep. My efforts to try to control the situation made it worse. My old methods of raising my son no longer worked.
I became obsessed with trying to fix him, falling into the vortex of chaos, drama, and urgency his addiction was causing. I desperately wanted to go back in time in order to get my innocent boy back. Somehow I believed I could do this if I micromanaged his every waking moment. Writing this to you now, I realize how irrational that is, but in the adrenaline-laced fear of those days of shocking discovery, this is the response I felt driven to. My health suffered; I couldn’t sleep, eat, or even think.
Addiction was squatting in my home.
It finally occurred to me that I couldn’t keep doing this, to either of us. It was not my responsibility to fix him. It was his. I had to take a strong stand because I need my home to be a place of safety and security for my own emotional well-being. I matter too. He had become toxic with dishonesty, manipulation, and rebellion. He drank all the alcohol I had in the house. He stole money from me, friends, and family. I could not trust he would not bring people home who would also steal from me or commit illegal acts which I could be held accountable for by law. I felt I was not safe in my home, not because I had a specific fear because of something he might do, but his behavior had now made me feel I didn’t know who he was or what he was capable of. I started keeping my valuables in my bedroom behind a locked door, and even locked myself in my bedroom to sleep at night.
In November 2015, I told my son he would stop using or I would find somewhere else for him to live. However, in delivering that ultimatum, I didn’t realize at the time that he couldn’t stop. The physical damage from alcohol and opiate abuse had been done; it had physically altered his brain chemistry so that he was unable to think clearly and make better choices. He, too, had lost control, and my ranting and micromanaging were useless.
Therein lies the second of the three C’s of Nar-Anon, “I can’t control it.”
If you speak with my son now, he will tell you there was nothing I could have done to dissuade him. He made his choices knowing they were unwise. Additionally, his youth, in conjunction with a brain that is not fully developed, could not allow him to imagine long-term consequences. As his addiction gathered intensity, it completely devoured his life. In between fixes, he contemplated suicide.
“I can’t control it” does not mean I have thrown my hands up and quit. I made the choice to get help for him, by admitting him into in-patient rehab; and for myself, by getting counseling and training. I can’t control my son’s addiction, thoughts, behavior, or withdrawal, but I am responsible for my own responses and my participation.
I attend workshops, Nar-anon meetings and counseling, and I read voraciously. The police have also been a tremendous resource for me. I am now able to recognize the signs of alcohol and drug use, such as pinpoint pupils, insomnia, and changes in appetite and interests. I am trained in the use of Narcan (Naloxone) and keep emergency numbers handy. I am learning how to avoid enabling my son. I have found strength and hope in learning more about addiction because the learning and training I received has removed the mystic of addiction as belonging to certain people in certain families, raging uncontrollably through my life. I am gradually becoming more comfortable with being able to depend on trained professionals and people who have lived through this successfully. Their practical suggestions help me see choices I might not have been able to come up with on my own.
I’ve learned one of the most dangerous things the parent of an addict can do is to engage in recrimination, guilt, and self-flagellation. All of these things consume emotional and mental energy, filling up all the available emotional space, preventing the parent from solving the actual problem: The addiction of their children.
Even though my son is in the early stages of recovery, we are both in a better place mentally, physically, and emotionally. Our home is no longer the Castle of Constant Chaos, and we have new tools and structure to use to create a healthier, balanced life. My son has a relapse plan and I do as well. I have a written checklist of things I need to do to take care of myself. When I am in a state of high emotion, I forget to eat, so eating is on my checklist.
I did not cause my son’s addiction, and “I can’t control it.” I can, however, be responsible for my own actions and responses. If you are reading this and your story is similar to mine, I encourage you to seek help. You may wish to start with your family physician, a counselor, or an open Nar-Anon meeting. Addiction is a downward spiral, and by its nature continues to get worse as it takes over more and more of your life. So, whatever you decide to do, please don’t wait.
About The Author:
Serena is a mother to a 16-year-old recovering alcoholic and opiate addict. This is a three part series of articles on opiate addiction from a parent’s perspective based on the three C’s of Nar-Anon. She writes these with the hope that her experience can be of help to others.
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