Doing Tough Love with my Son Led Us Both to Recovery

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As the mother of a recovering addict, I am blessed that my son eventually chose sobriety

And, for sure, being sober is a choice. Everyday, my son consciously chooses to stay sober. Today he is four years sober, and believe it or not, I do not worry about him relapsing.

Not worrying about my son relapsing was a breakthrough in my life. However, getting to that point was not easy. Just like my son chose sobriety, I had to choose to “Let Go” and to “Let God.” I did tough love with my son, Ryan, in 2002, when he was twenty-five. My journey through his addiction to his recovery encom- passes over eleven years and is written as a memoir in my book, How One Parent Engaged Addiction: A Mother’s Healing Journey Through Her Son’s Addiction.

When I did tough love with my son and engaged his addictions head on (after coming out of denial), I figuratively grabbed my sword, mounted my horse and went into battle. I intended to be victorious. In my victory, I intended to pull my son out of the monsters’ grips. I intended to save my son’s life and to slay his demons.

What I did not intend, was to uncover my dysfunctional behavior. It wasn’t my son’s monsters that needed slaying. They were my own! Only Ryan could fight his battles. Only Ryan could slay his demons. I had demons of my own staring me in the face. My demons were as cunning for me as Ryan’s were for him. I was knocked off my horse onto my knees countless times before I could even recognize the diseases of codependency, enabling, and denial, as the symptoms of my diseased thinking.

As codependent parents, most of us frustrate ourselves by a destructive form of helping, known as enabling. Enablers have a difficult time letting go. By not letting go, we deprive our children of recovery. We need to hit bottom as codependents. We need help. Intellectually we realize we shouldn’t enable or help our addict children, yet most of us do. In our helping, we keep them helpless.

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My biggest learning curve didn’t take place until 2008 when I met Anne Salter, an addictions specialist from Delray Beach, Florida. Anne explained to me how addiction is a family disease and how our family-of-origin and early childhood wounds affect us and how we carry those wounds into our adulthood, into all relationships, and our parenting. Anne opened my heart and mind to seeing my own inner wounded child self, who I had suppressed many years before.

It’s interesting because I would never have sought the counseling of an addictions therapist for myself. I had never gone to therapy throughout all of my life’s challenging years. I read self- help books and handled everything by myself. I associated shame and a stigma to seeing a therapist. I was born in 1950 and in those days, if anyone went to a psychiatrist, they had to be crazy. I don’t remember if back in the 60’s there were psychologists, but no one I knew would ever consider seeing a “shrink.”

I learned a tremendous amount from Anne Salter, and I thank God every day for her being put into my life. It’s interesting how the Universe works. I had a BA in English, so I offered to help edit and organize Anne’s book called, Family Stew: Our Relationship Legacy, as a gift to Anne, and to gain experience as an editor. While reading and editing her book, I realized I needed to recover just as much as my son.

Though not addicted to drugs and alcohol, I was ill in my codependent thinking and behavior. In 2010, when my son went into rehab, I realized if I expected him to face his demons and to recover, I also needed to face mine. I chose to become a non-toxic, healthy mother and woman.

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I had to take an honest look at my childhood, my family-of-origin, the poor choices I made as a teenager and early adult, and how easy it is to go off track in one’s life. Though I didn’t use drugs and alcohol to numb my pain, I found other ways to conceal my wounded Self. For you see, I had suffered from a broken teenage heart when I was nineteen. I allowed cruel things said to me when we broke up to negatively affect my self-esteem. Not possessing the ability to understand my internal pain, I started down a path of self- destruction, much like our addict children. I figured if he didn’t love me, then I must not be lovable, and I allowed those negative feelings to snowball into all kinds of poor choices and self- defeating behaviors.

Fortunately, I knew the value of education, so I did attend college. I made the Dean’s list, graduated with honors, and became a very successful businesswoman. I worked hard to prove I was not stupid. I worked hard to achieve all the financial rewards that provide evidence to the world that one is successful.

However, while I was working hard and building my empire of material wealth, I had failed to deal with my emotional poverty and the buried pain. I built walls around my heart. I never wanted to be hurt again. I never wanted to be vulnerable. I buried my head in denial with respect to my emotional needs.

What I’ve learned is when we are young we get hurt by many abusive situations. Some of us allow those hurts to fester inside and to tear us emotionally apart. No one teaches us how to talk about those negative feelings and how to get them out. Most of us didn’t feel we could open up to our parents regarding our painful emotions, so we buried them. We used drugs, alcohol and nicotine to cover up those negative feelings because no one taught us they are simply part of being human. Some of us become workaholics. Some of us become sexaholics. There are many ways to run from our pain-filled selves.

Today, I give thanks that I finally pulled my head out of denial to face the truth about my son’s addiction and my dysfunction as a codependent mother. Today my son is happily married, and I am a grandmother of a beautiful grandson. Today, our family is successfully living in the sober world, and I am grateful to be sharing our success story in this publication.

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