We stopped letting our son's addiction control us and learned how to find our inner peace.
Sometimes you pick the journey ... and sometimes the journey picks you. While dealing with our son's addiction, we discovered the trick to staying sane: finding the sweet spot that's dancing between our desire for control, and letting go of the unpredictable nature of living with someone challenged by addiction and mental illness.
Creating, communicating, and clarifying healthy boundaries—defined based on our sense of compassion, empathy and tough love—gave us an ongoing message as we struggled with our sense of responsibility toward our son's life.
After 10 years of the constant ups and downs, we finally learned some steps that allowed us to sleep peacefully most nights, and provided the most healing for everyone.
1. We accepted that we could only do so much
My wife and I have backgrounds in education and health care, but that didn't make us immune to manipulation or being jerked around by our son as he dealt with addiction and mental illness. We felt betrayed, disrespected, out-of-control, and frustrated. We became determined to fix this because we had access to the answers. Ha!
In time, we realized the hubris and wisdom in that statement. The hubris was thinking we were going to fix anyone, including someone we love dearly. Sure, we could remove all the evil temptations in our home, make happy conversations, encourage healthy choices, confront unhealthy decisions, and cut off relations if we needed to.
The wisdom emerged as we realized we were creating a wonderful, healthy environment that made us feel good, but did not fix the problem. Although we felt very much connected to the problem, it dawned on us that we actually connected ourselves to the symptoms, while the problem remained very much outside of us.
We tried taking full responsibility for something that was neither ours, nor us. Wisdom invited us to let go of the problem, but we could not at first. Then a third bubble of wisdom popped, inviting us to define what we were willing to do, and what we were NOT willing to do, in response to our son's addiction and mental illness—the symptoms, not the problem.
Over several days, we gave more power to understanding than our ability to judge as we discussed the situation and symptoms. We shared our perceptions, what we needed to feel healthy in the messiness, and how we felt toward addiction and mental illness, toward our son, toward each other and ourselves, and concluded we wanted better—on all fronts.
So, we started by accepting the situation as it is. You know, it is what it is. Our acceptance allowed solutions to appear, replacing our frustrations and fear.
We began putting into place the things we needed—to fortify our health, and accept ourselves no matter what we were or were not willing to do for our son, regardless of the outcome.
At times, these conversations felt as challenging and as messy as the situation itself (a symptom of the problem), which, in hindsight, makes sense. In a world where everything connects, if we were able to meet the challenges and decrease the messiness within us, we could meet the challenges and decrease the messiness outside of us.
2. We talked each other through the hard moments
We discovered that gifts of messy, challenging situations emerge from the learning that takes place as we connected with ourselves and each other ... so we kept talking.
We talked to further clarify what we were willing to do and not do. We talked, realizing that the boundaries we created became blurred at times, expanded and contracted, and accepted all of that as part of the messiness. We realized that we gained more power from creating boundaries, than from the boundaries we created.
We didn't view redefining boundaries as wishy-washy; we saw it as adaptive, applying fairness as we adjusted and integrated new information. We would ask, "How are we expressing love for ourselves, each other, and him in redefining this boundary?" Healing was taking place.
Talking with our son was the most important and challenging conversation we had; we shared our thinking and conclusions. We entertained putting the conclusions in writing, perhaps as a contract, leveraging all the benefits of stating boundaries in black and white, and having the paper as a reminder; yet, we decided no to based on our desire to keep the verbal communication lines as open as possible.
We shared that we would always love and be there for him by directly supporting his healthy choices, but we would not support his unhealthy decisions. In other words, when he chose wrongly, he would be on his own. We sensed and hoped this would provide him optimal learning, and we told him so.
It was clear we loved him and accepted the situation as his situation, and we turned over the torch of primary responsibility for seeking his solution to him. We ended by expressing our complete confidence that he would be successful—as he defined success.
We have held this conversation dozens of times over the years as new information surfaced and played out, all contained in the messiness, which decreased as we remained committed to our approach, the message, and him.
There was a greater sense of calm and peace supported by the loving, healthy intention we held in each other and for each other. Our conversations typically ended with a reminder—you are the best person to take care of YOU.
Six months ago we lost our son. He did not live the life we intended for him; he lived his life.
And in that previous sentence emerges the sadness and celebration we experienced in his life and passing.
The sadness was not overwhelming or devastating, yet it was there. We attribute our dozens of conversations over the past 10 years to softening the sweet spot between questioning whether we could have done more, and the knowing we did our best.
OPTIMUS exists to bring out your best. Rest assured you carry your best with you 24/7. Reach out to Scott Erickson to learn how to bring out your best at any time.