(Article 2: written for "The Addict's Mom")

Nobody’s perfect. The understatement is as true as it is cliché. And if nobody’s perfect, then it stands to good reason that nobody does everything perfectly.

We’re especially imperfect when it comes to saying “No” to our addicted child. That’s why we’ve gotta practice. And practice. And practice some more. No matter how hard it hurts, however much it might run counter to our instincts, even if sometimes the practicing feels almost impossible.

“No” begets the setting of healthy boundaries, an equally important and often just as difficult task for Moms to accomplish. Like saying “No,” drawing a line in the sand can frequently feel counterintuitive. We don’t wanna risk alienating our children, let alone losing them. Yet we cannot participate in our child’s active addiction. If we do, we are complicit.

Healthy boundaries may not be taught in any school, but they can be learned. Here’s how to begin:

If at all possible, set a healthy boundary while your child is lucid, sober and in full agreement. Then, when the addict breaks that boundary (and they will), say, “No, we’ve already talked about that and I’m sticking to our agreement.”

Perhaps there’s an addictively-addicted child at home and you’re concerned the abuse will result in a car accident. Draw the line. Tell ‘em they cannot use the car until he/she gets help. Then stick to it. No matter what. Even if they claim to just wanna drive down the street. Say “No.”

Remember, active addicts are very good at not telling the whole truth. We’re even better at turning cracks into crevices. Once boundaries are broken, to any degree, it becomes very difficult to go back and reset them.

Setting boundaries at the beginning will empower you to say “No” before it gets too late. Unfortunately, we too often don't learn this until the addiction’s well under way. A retroactive “No” is usually charged with enough emotion to start an outright war. Setting boundaries at the beginning keeps things objective -- and in perspective.

You might think it’s easy for me to stand up on high and recommend such a difficult course of action. In some ways you’re right. I am not a parent. I don’t have the history with these kids that would cripple me emotionally. However, as a treatment owner, and as a member of an alcoholically-dysfunctional family, I have had years of practice, in both saying “No” and setting boundaries. And I’ve learned the firmer we become, the healthier the outcome, for everyone.

A couple of useful tools that have helped me and my family over the years are Alanon, ACOA and the series of books by Melody Beattie, including Codependent No More and The Language of Letting Go.


Timothy Schnellenberger

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