(Article 1: written for "The Addict's Mom")
The other day I was chatting with The Addict’s Mom’s own Barbara Theodosiou and she asked me, “What advice can you give mothers who have children that are still in active addiction?”
“Learn how to say NO!,” I said.
“Just how do we do that?”, asked Barbara.
“No” is sometimes the hardest thing to say, especially for a mom to a son. Over time, however, I‘ve found that it is often the most powerful word in our vocabulary. “No” helps to develop self-esteem. “No” helps to establish healthy boundaries. More importantly, “No” can stop an addict from being active.
Manipulation is, in various ways, a large part of the active addict’s make up. It’s almost second nature. And without an objective perspective, one might not even notice when it’s happening. I know. Because as an ex-active addict, I’m now fully able to see my own manipulative patterns and how the whole cycle worked in my own family.
During active addiction, I never considered myself the manipulator. These days I claim anything but. The worst manipulations were when it came to my mother. I’d point out some sort of admirable behavior, allow her a moment to bask in the inevitable pride, then pounce for my reward. Once I got her in the habit of enabling me and my addiction, all bets were off. I was in control.
For years my mother and I were unable to break that cycle. I’d come to her with some glorious story; she’d respond with accolades, of both verbal and financial proportion. Before the vicious circle was finally broken, the consequent enabling had added four years to my active addiction.
Over the past decade and a half of helping the addicted to recover, I have regularly seen an almost identical pattern from moms and their children. The only difference is how entrenched the entire family is in this dysfunction.
“No” puts an end to that pattern once and for all.
While a mom’s son is staying with us they will hear the word “No” a lot. Sometimes this is the first time that anyone has ever denied him anything. That’s of course all the more reason for it to be said. Why? Because, as we’ve proven, “No” can and will save their lives.
“No” also provides moms with some much needed respite. Now that their sons are safe, it’s okay to simply sit back and breathe. When the lines of communication are reopened, we help moms continue with this vocabulary. We make sure they say "No" as we say it: firmly, yet with love. Slowly, albeit ever so surely, moms will see addicted boys become sober men, responsible and accountable for their own behavior. And as anyone who’s witnessed such a turnabout will tell you, it is truly a marvelous sight to behold.
Next time we’ll discuss how to practice saying “No.”.
Timothy Schnellenberger is the founder of Recovery Boot Camp, Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center and Healing Properties, Sober Living Community, both in Delray Beach, Florida. Timothy, who is also a recovered alcoholic/addict, grew into the industry as an extension of his own sobriety, back in 2002.