Coping Through Chaos
Living in fear can truly take a toll, and as a parent of an active heroin addict, I lived in daily fear. Fear breeds anxiety and anxiety leads to both physical and mental distress that can affect our ability to function and cope…
It is important as you come to terms with your child’s addiction that you also actively engage in self-care. Playing the role of a martyr or victim to your addict’s behavior solves nothing and will end up leaving you drained and unable to manage the daily roller coaster ride that comes with loving an addict.
Sleep – I am the mother of eight. Six I gave birth to… and those were the ones who took my precious slumber as babes and rocketed me into a decades long pattern of sleep deprivation. It snuck up on me gradually, and before I knew it, a five-six-hour night became the norm. Sadly, society not only supported my lack of sleep but praised me for it.
I remember when I was in school and classmates would brag about how little sleep they had gotten the night before in preparation for tests and exams. By the time my second group of children were in college, I was wiser and would encourage them to brag when they made an A and slept eight hours. Sorry first children, I was still on my own journey of sleep deprivation when you were headed that way.
Along with lack of sleep came poor eating habits and lots of sugar to keep me going. Chocolate chips straight out of the bag was a norm…still is, but my children still recall walking into the kitchen to find me eating brown sugar straight out of the bag with a spoon. Sugar highs eventually turn to lows and a crash.
It was only when my youngest child was nine or ten that I began the process of training myself to sleep again. I began the process one summer. I would get in bed at ten, no television, with a clock next to the bed. Then, I would not allow myself to get out of bed until seven. At first it took me an hour or so to fall asleep, but eventually my body figured it out. After a couple of months, the world changed…literally! It was like a veil had been lifted. Colors were brighter, sounds more distinct, and I was processing information infinitely better.
Turns out adequate sleep really is part of a healthy lifestyle and can benefit your heart, weight, mind, and more. I shudder to think of the kind of driver I was on five hours of sleep. I’m not that great on eight.
As Crystal’s addiction wormed its way into my life; I also lost that hard- fought battle to reclaim sleep. It wasn’t night-time feedings or simply not enough hours in a day. It was pure panic. I would wake up in the middle of the night and my mind would go crazy playing through one scenario after the next. No matter how hard I tried, sleep evaded me. I was back to five hours of sleep if I was lucky, and I was left with no defenses against the anxiety that continued to build inside of me. Anxiety breeds anxiety…I had two jobs and I needed to get some sleep.
At that point, I sought medical help and was given some anti-anxiety medication to help me sleep. I don’t like pills and rarely even take an aspirin. I was angry that I was having to take a pill in order to sleep, but it was the right decision for me at the time. Once I was able to start sleeping again, I implemented other behaviors to help in managing my anxiety including exercise and meditation.
Having an addict in your life is not a short-term problem; or at least we hope not. If your child is alive, there is hope for recovery, but the road will be long, frustrating and out of your control. Only the addict can make the choice for recovery, and only you can make the decision to apply coping skills and self-care as the journey progresses.
Coping through Chaos – Exercise
Exercise has always been my go-to for handling stress. From the time my first child was born, I made time, four to five times a week, to do exercise of some form. I exercised in lieu of sleep. In retrospect, I wish I had figured out a way to do both, but exercise always trumped sleep in my world.
When my children were toddlers, I would get up at 5:30 and do class with Jane Fonda using VHS tapes. I remember my kids stumbling into the room, one by one, and crawling up on the couch behind me while I continued my high kicks and stretching; cheered on by Jane Fonda in her pink and purple striped leotard with a class of perky participants behind her. My kids innately knew to sit quietly while I completed my insanity. It made for a better day for all…balance.
My addiction to exercise has served me well throughout my life; helping me to survive divorce X 2, deaths, children’s antics, work, and more. When Crystal spiraled off into addiction, it was a natural place for me to turn. As I lost control over so many areas of my life, exercise was the place I still had control.
When Crystal hit the streets; I hit the gym. I increased my exercise from one workout a day to two and then added a cycle of weights - just because I could. I went from five days a week at the gym to six and sometimes seven workouts a week. I was isolating, avoiding people, and exhausting my body to take the edge off. The gym was always a safe place to burn off stress and keep my anxiety at a manageable level…it was also a way to be with people without being with people…an acceptable way to isolate.
Most of us can’t just isolate in our houses and not come out. Life requires us to work, drive carpools, and go to the grocery store, so instead we find ways to install invisible barriers between us and the people we encounter. At the gym, I could feel invisible while watching those around me engage in what seemed, at the time, to be frivolous nonsense compared to the emotional roller-coaster I was on. Now, who was judging who?
I believe that exercise is a great tool to bring balance to your life when chaos ensues and is a positive form of self-care. However, when exercise turns into a means of isolating and avoiding real interaction with people, we can slide into dangerous territory.
Isolating is an unhealthy response to trauma, and a dangerous place to go. The longer we isolate, the more natural it becomes to separate from family and friends. Rather than confronting our emotions, we stop feeling and start numbing ourselves to what we are experiencing. Taking the first steps out of isolation requires vulnerability and trust. A good place to begin is by reaching out to parents going through your same struggles. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are good places to start. Working a twelve-step program can change your life!
Crystal has been clean for over a year now, and I am in the best shape of my life at 65. However, I am making a conscious effort to cut back to five days a week in my exercise regiment and add people back in to the mix. I joined a senior choir and took a cooking class…baby steps.
Meditation and Prayer
I have always been a church goer. I was raised in the church and it is just an a part of my life I’ve never questioned. When addiction first hit my life, the church should have been the place I could turn, but the church I was attending at the time was not that place for me.
People knew me too well and had preconceived perceptions of who I was and what my life should look like. I needed something new…new people, new surroundings and mostly anonymity.
I tried a few spots and then stumbled into Munger. Here, I found a place where I was not just checking the box for attending a service, but where I could truly worship God and bring my greatest fears and uncertainties. I regularly cried through services and knelt at the prayer rail in surrender. I found a group of supportive women who held me up with love and prayer as Crystal’s addiction progressed. I never felt judged.
Our minister was encouraging us to spend the first fifteen minutes of the day in prayer and reading the bible, and I decided to give it a shot. This has become a daily practice for me, that over the last few years, now easily flows into thirty to forty-five minutes of prayer, meditation and gratitude. It brings me a sense of peace and balance I never knew was possible.
I am a Jesus girl…he’s my guy so that is where I go…but turning to whatever Higher Power you can conceive of will work. In Twelve-Step programs they ask you to: “Admit we are powerless over ‘______’ and that our lives have become unmanageable. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity and made the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” In the beginning that “________” was my Addict and her addiction, but as time has passed it is everything…my children, my money, my ego…I try to surrender it all!
Years into this process, I must still remind myself daily to relinquish all aspects of my life to God. This time of quiet mindful breathing slows my heart rate and stills my anxiety while I surrender to a Power greater than myself and ask for wisdom and courage to discern and follow wherever the Holy Spirit may lead me.