In my experience, while going through crisis and chaos while dealing with a loved one with Substance Use (SU), I was in a constant state of anxiety, hyper-vigilance and on alert twenty-four hours a day. I maintained this state for a lengthy period, so lengthy that it felt like it became a part of who I was. Always in turmoil, so I was always ready to respond or react. When there is change, no matter how small, it throws us off-kilter. When our loved ones go into treatment, or leave the home to live in a sober house, or find their way into an outpatient program, etc., our role in the relationship starts to change too. However, we are left in a state of hyper-anxiety with a nervous stomach and feelings like we might just explode. In a sense, we become comfortable with this state because it’s familiar and there isn’t anything or anyone to focus on. The crisis is over, the focus is gone, but the feelings are not.
Once my son went off to treatment, even though it was positive, the abrupt change left me with feelings of loneliness. I was weepy and had feelings of not being needed anymore. What I realized was that maybe this was a “natural progression” of life, but that I didn’t have societal clues to help guide me. I know that the situation I am in is not “normal” but I always try and compare it to things that are normal. So, I started to think about my son going into treatment as similar to my daughters going off to college. I started to see that the feelings I was experiencing were the same feelings I had with “empty nest” —on steroids mind you— but the same. When my daughters (and son) went off to college, I had to redefine who I was, my role as a mom was changing even though I did not want it to. The feelings were similar with my son going off to treatment and I started to see I had to adjust to the situation.
I realized that my feelings of ultra-anxiety and loneliness were my problem and not my sons. Just like when my daughters went off to college, I wouldn’t make it my children’s responsibility to “fix” my feelings, I couldn’t expect my son to either. His sole responsibility, for a very long time, was to work on his recovery, not mine. My emotions and feelings are my responsibility. I had to start taking care of myself and create a new social life. I started going out with friends and made it a point to do things in life that make me happy. I reached out for professional help with the emotions I was experiencing. I attended support groups, created a community of people in the same situation as myself, and got educated about SU. I was lucky in that I did have guidance from my son’s treatment staff and they suggested I keep communications infrequent and keep conversations very light. We could talk about the weather but it was suggested that if he try and pull me back into the chaos that I make it short and hang up.
Honestly, this was the beginning of the shifting of my role as his mom. It became a long, involved process of letting go. Not letting go of my son but letting him take the reins of his recovery. My role was changing so my feelings were changing and I needed to learn (just like my son) to deal with them. I had to adjust to less of him in my life and less of me in his life. It was important for me to determine what my son is responsible for: his recovery and that’s it for a long time, and what I’m responsible for: me.
Written by: Laurie MacDougall #AlliesinRecovery