Are You Loving Your Loved One To Death or To Life?
Recently I had the opportunity to converse with Leslie, a BALM® graduate who joins us from time to time on the Daily BALM® as a speaker and interviewee. In a recent conversation, Leslie shared her view on a few topics relevant to family members and loved ones: Stress, Bliss, and Indicators of Progress. Here is part of that conversation. Leslie will be joining us this summer to go more deeply into her efforts as a mom helping her sons to move from entitlement and addiction to personal responsibility and recovery.
Bev: Leslie, we have talked about how what often happens in unaware families with using loved ones is that the family members are involved in a process of loving their using relative to death. Then, when the family gets into their own recovery, family members begin to love them to LIFE! This is what I am noticing about you: You definitely work hard to love your children to life! You have dropped all enabling and empower your children by discouraging a sense of entitlement in their lives while calling them to lives of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility. How do you do this?
Leslie: Well, Bev, I find it so hard to understand parents not naturally moving their kids in that direction. There seems to be so much fear about not giving, not providing, not taking care of, even of one’s adult children. My attitude has been and is that it is my job to make myself completely unnecessary to my sons.
Bev: Do you not want them to be close to you?
Leslie: One of my chief joys comes when my boys feel confident enough in my ability to be there for them, that they can share their challenges and want to hear my ideas and experience. I do a lot of listening in order to be able to be heard during the moments when I have something to say that could help them.
Bev: Leslie, your ability to do so has grown considerably over the past few years. To what do you attribute this skill you have of ‘being there’ for your sons in a way that is helpful, yet not at all enabling?
Leslie: I have made it my business to take the BALM® and all the feedback from my coach very seriously and use what I have learned to be a more powerful advocate for recovery in our home. Having a coach has been important to my process. In fact, I think that coaching can help enormously.
Bev: Yet, you came into coaching with a strong foundation in the ability to meditate and practice presence in your life, which allowed you to hear things more deeply and powerfully, and possibly act on what you were learning almost immediately. What advice would you give to parents who do not come into the program with that type of background.
Leslie: This program will teach you how to be present in your life. The key is to be teachable. To be honest about whether or not what you are currently doing in your life is working and if it is not, to be open to hearing what your BALM® instructors and Coach are saying and to be willing to do things differently.
Bev: On another topic, you have shared that you have had the opportunity, on the basis of your own growth , to act as a coach with your son as he is facing ongoing recovery. You recently coined a new term that I think could be useful for other family members to be aware of: Stress-Debt. Could you share your thoughts on what Stress-Debt is and how it can affect a person in their first few years of recovery?
Leslie: One of the things I have been watching happen to my son, which I believe is not that uncommon in those new to recovery, is something I call stress-debt. Here is how it works: During the time that our loved ones were drinking and drugging, they was not actively engaging in problem solving. Instead, they were using a substance to numb themselves to the problems in their lives, always telling themselves that if they were sober, they could easily solve their problems. Then they get sober, find out how difficult it is to solve problems, and feel overwhelmed. This overwhelm is a result of years of telling themselves it would be easy to apply themselves once sober, when in fact it is not. It takes work, sometimes very hard work. That is your stress-debt. I have found it crucial to share this understanding with my son and his own sense of overwhelm has reduced considerably as a result of that insight.
Bev: Wow, that is an interesting take on what happens when a person stops using. How does one realize they may be dealing with this issue?
Leslie: During using, we and our loved ones tell ourselves convenient and self-serving stories. Then, at a certain time, we find it no longer serves us to lie to ourselves about what it takes to live a powerfully clean and sober life, and for the family member, a life without denial and enabling. At that point, we may experience stress-debt, the underlying motivation for having lied to ourselves.
Bev: I appreciate the way in which you are making this directly relevant to family members. It is not easy to move from denial to awareness, enabling to helping. But just because it is hard, doesn’t mean we should give up, any more than our loved ones should give up on their sobriety.
Leslie: Everything in our central nervous system wants us to continue to tell ourselves the convenient and self-serving story. Recovering is about dealing with the stress-debt of all of those years of lies. A lot of parents are trying to protect their kids from all that stress. But, their kids have to experience it to walk through and beyond it. Bottom line is: you cannot pay the stress-debt for your child. You have to allow them to pay back their own. Everyone has to pay their own stress-debt.
Bev: And to grow as recovering family members, we, too, need to experience the challenges of a non-enabling life in order to walk through and beyond it.
Bev: So your take on this is that it is a bad idea for parents to try to do the work for their recovering adult children or try to make the work easier.
Leslie: Yes. In fact, this may result in accruing your own stress-debt. Telling yourself the story that you can make your child’s life easier is a convenient story, but is not true. Your child has to go through their own process. It’s like trying to lose weight for someone else. How often does that work? Only never.
Leslie: I think allowing an adult child to continue to behave badly at a parents’ expense only fosters further negativity and a sense of entitlement – and that is a very bad idea. I’m a big advocate of allowing adult children to grow up and in fact using all the leverage we have to help them do so.
(For more information on how to use leverage, go to lesson 1 of The Daily BALM®)
Bev: I have heard you say that on the road to bliss, we have to pay off our stress debt. Let’s talk about the idea of bliss and how it applies to addiction and recovery.
Leslie: For me, bliss is wanting to be where I am, doing what i am doing; not distracted, not thinking about the future or past. In other words, when it is a moment I want to be in, I’m experiencing bliss. In many ways, drinking and drugging is the shortcut to bliss. the drugs or alcohol put us in a state of where we want to be, thus giving us a temporary feeling of that kind of bliss.
Bev: The text of Alcoholics Anonymous talks about ‘trudging the road to happy destiny’, of ‘doing what you ought to do because you want to do it.’ The bliss does not always occur overnight, but grows over time of again and again doing the next right thing, taking the next right step.
Leslie: Yes, this idea of being in the moment and happy, is all about letting go of the baggage of fear, expectation, and entitlement. To do so long term requires a lucidity not available long term to someone who is using.
Bev: Of course, for parents to move from constant anxiety and worry about how their loved ones are doing to a sense of being okay in their own skin, regardless of their loved one’s choices, can take time.
Leslie:Yes, of course. We parents are on a journey of recovery just as our loved ones are.
Bev: Leslie, on another topic, you also talk about the importance of striving to find indications of progress when working with someone on their recovery.
Leslie: Yes, when i am speaking with my son, I am always trying to find indications of progress. I share how far I’ve seen him come. At the same time, I say to him, “You know you are on the right path when you know you are exactly where you want to be doing exactly what you want to be doing.”
Bev: It can take awhile to get to that point in recovery though.
Leslie: Yes, and just as it helps me to review my progress with my coach, it helps my son to do so as well.
Bev: Thank you Leslie, may I share this conversation in an upcoming blog?
Leslie is a BALM® parent. She has been practicing the Be A Loving Mirror method of family recovery for the past 2 1/2 years and has found it helpful to both her and her sons. To reach her, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: contact Leslie.
Beverly A. Buncher, MA, PCC, MRLC, CTPC
Family Recovery Coach/CEO
Family Recovery Resources, LLC
786 859 4050