I needed a plan to divest myself of the huge amount of stuff I’d accumulated during the twenty-two years I’ve lived in my home. I decided to tackle one room at a time and began with the kitchen, where I soon discovered that I did not need 15 knives, five corkscrews, 25 dinner plates, about 15 plastic lids that didn’t fit any containers, a dusty fondue pot hidden in a hard-to-reach cabinet, five teapots, etc. I easily filled five boxes without tackling the pantry with its fifty or so spice jars, some of which were over 10 years old. You get the picture.
Divesting myself of unnecessary household items was freeing. This got me thinking about other areas of my life that could use some purging. Even after many years of participating in a 12-step group for family and friends of those who abuse substances, I still carry negative baggage. I do not need to control my loved one, to offer advice, to harbor resentment, to sink into self-pity, to dwell on the past or to project into the future. I wish I could divest myself of these toxic feelings and behaviors as easily as I tossed discarded items into cardboard boxes. I know that I’ve made progress over the years, but I still have a long way to go.
Parents want the best for their children no matter their age. So when our children suffer from substance abuse, we want to step in and help them get well. A worthy goal. Yet this desire often takes the form of control and “if only” advice which usually falls on deaf ears. “If only you’d stop hanging out with the wrong crowd.” “If only you’d get a steady job.” “If only you’d return to school.” You might think, “If only he’d do what I tell him to do, things would get better.” Over many years I learned it is best to mind my own business. Rather than give advice, I try to talk less and listen more to my adult son. That’s not to say that occasionally I’m tempted to put my spoon in his bowl. And when that happens, I focus on “progress not perfection.” I believe that we should celebrate each time we put the brakes on control because the impulse to take over and fix our loved ones is incredibly strong. At least that’s been my experience.
Another unhealthy behavior that I’d like to get rid of is resentment. A friend shared that if you don’t have expectations of loved ones, then you won’t carry resentment. Good advice. Does that mean that we should give up hope that our wives, husbands, sons, daughters, siblings, and close friends embrace recovery? Definitely not. But we need not expect healthy behaviors from someone who suffers from the disease of addiction. Until our loved ones are ready and willing to get well, there isn’t much we can do besides cultivate patience and understanding and be available to provide support when they’re ready to overcome this disease.
One of the best ways to downsize those demons is to shift the focus away from our loved ones and toward ourselves. There’s much help available both online and person to person to aid our recovery. September is National Recovery Month. I encourage you to check out resources available and embrace recovery along with millions of other family members.