Get OFF the Roller Coaster!

You know what I can’t do anymore? Ride roller coasters. They make me sick. I get dizzy, my head hurts and my entire day is ruined. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or because my body has changed or what. But one thing is for sure, I don’t ride them anymore. I learned that I don’t like the way they make me feel or how they impact my life. So I quit.

Being in a relationship with an addict, is a lot like riding a rollercoaster. A rollercoaster of emotion, that you ride all day – every day.

They take us up and then they take us down. They take us side to side and for loops. And then just when you think the ride is over and it’s time to get off, they hit the reverse button and you do it all again, but this time backwards!

Loving an addict can be nauseating! Up and down, side to side, head over heels craziness can really suck the life right out of you.

I’m sure as many of you moms and dads read this your heads are nodding as fast as the Dwight Schrute bobblehead doll from The Office. You fully admit this is the way it is, yet for so many of us we can seem to avoid taking this ride.

We tell ourselves, we won’t do it any longer. We say NO MORE! I’m not getting back on that ride. I’m tired of being dizzy, exhausted, depressed and sick to my stomach! Yet so often we find ourselves back in line handing our ticket over to the carney and watching as he lowers the bar onto our laps and quietly whispers, “Hold on, this may hurt a little.”

Learning to stop getting on this ride is a HUGE step in the recovery process for all parents and spouses of addicts. Your ability to stop riding the emotional rollercoaster that their addiction produces is the first step towards finding your peace again. It also just may be the shove that finally pushes your addict to truly see their need to ask for help.

You see, each time you get back on that roller coaster with them. Submitting to their requests for money, buying into their grandiose stories of victimization or allowing them back into your home. You’re showing them that no matter how many loop to loops their rollercoaster has on it, you’re not getting off. You’re always gonna be there to hold the barf bag…

It’s time to get off and stay off.

It’s time to show them what a firm boundary looks like.

It’s time to start taking care of yourself and let them deal with the consequences of their actions.

I know it’s easier said than done. I get it. And if that’s the way you feel, then this week just start small. When he or she tries to pull you into their emotional craziness. Just take a deep breathe and say no.

No, I can’t help you today.

No, I can’t give you any more money.

No, I’m done bailing you out.

No, I will not let you back into my home.

No, I will not get back on this roller coaster with you.

When you stop taking your seat on their roller coaster of life, you start shutting down all the options that have supported their addiction. The longer and more effectively you can do this, the closer your addict gets to that pivotal point in their life when recovery becomes the best option.

For more help on learning how to get off the proverbial roller coaster that is loving an addict, pick up my book: Finding Hope, a Field Guide for Families Affected By Addiction.

I Almost Relapsed on the 4th of July

“I Will Not Use, No Matter What!”

I wrote that phrase in my lecture notebook during my stay at Rob’s Ranch, and I still remember the exact moment I wrote it. A feeling of strength came over me as I made a personal mandate that I was done with my old way of living.

This statement became my mandate and it has pulled me out of many traps the past few years; but one such occasion stands out.

Like an idiot, I took off by myself (not something I would suggest early in recovery) on a camping trip to Roman Nose State Park near Yukon, Oklahoma. I was looking forward to this trip—just me and Mother Nature for an entire week. I was convinced I would spend the time sitting outside my RV, writing, reading books, and enjoying the scenery, undisturbed for days.

It was gonna be good, the only problem was I forgot what weekend it was. I was so focused on packing the right stuff, getting out there, and getting set up that I totally forgot the date.

It was 4th of July weekend . The year, 2012.

Now, I am not a complete idiot. I had realized it was a holiday week, I just didn’t realize everyone would stay at the state park the entire weekend! Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by thirty other RVs full of people partying and partying hard.

So there I was, all alone, stuck in between what sounded like some pretty quality parties. I had no accountability (first mistake) and nowhere I needed to be for days. I have to admit I had some pretty troubling thoughts that first night. But each time my mind wandered into a thought like No one will ever know or You can have a few beers, what’s it gonna hurt? something would click inside my head and I would immediately begin to speak my mandate quietly to myself.

That weekend, saying “I Will Not Use, No Matter What!” as my mandate statement became a habit that has stuck with me every day since. I made it through that camping trip and came home stronger than ever in my sobriety. While I should never have put myself in that situation in the first place, I view that time as a turning point in my recovery. It was one of the most tempting times I had experienced, and I came out of it victorious.

I knew I could do it.

So what is your mandate? Have you ever sat down and thought about it? Do you have a statement you live by, something that drives you forward or keeps you on track? Use whatever analogy you would like for your mandate.

Call it your rudder, your barometer, your compass, your GPS—whatever you want. Just get one that means something to you and convicts your heart to act. That is the most important facet of a moving mandate. It must have a passion behind it that will stir you to action.

Keys to a good mandate statement:

  • Keep It Short. A mandate statement should be between five and ten words max; a phrase you can memorize within a few minutes. You want it to be something your brain will immediately turn to at a moment’s notice in the heat of battle.
  • Keep It Specific. Make your personal mandate attributable to your life experience, addiction, or struggle. It should be a command that will instantly speak to you while pointing to your future.
  • Keep It Singular. A mandate should have meaning behind it that draws you to a certain time in your life or particular emotion you’ve experienced, acting as a verbal reminder of who you once were and what would happen if you made the wrong choice. It should be uniquely singular to you.

If you have a mandate statement let us know by leaving it in the comments section. If not, write one up now.  I’d love to know what drives you to stay clean, make the right choices, or just stay on track every day.

This is an excerpt from my first book, Hope is Alive. It’s part autobiographical and part practical advice on how to stay sober in the modern world. You can pick it up here.

My Moment

“We do not remember days, we remember moments” – Ceasre Paverse

It was a normal morning. It started off just like almost every other morning had the previous three years.  I woke up blurry eyed, hungover, jonesing for something to take away the pain.

My legs were kicking and my stomach was aching. I took my time getting ready for the day, stopping every few minutes as my gut rejected all the previous night had forced upon it.

It was miserable, but it was normal.

With a hand full of pills in my pocket and a few more waiting for me in my top desk drawer, I headed out. A couple Red Bull pit stops later and I made it into work about 9:45.

Locked inside my office, my day began. Chopping, smashing and lining up 3 beautiful rails that would be my breakfast. A mixture of Oxy’s and Lortabs flew up my nose, at about the same time I heard a pounding on my office door!

My life changed in this moment. It was at this precise moment that everything began to change. It was April 6th, 2011. 5 years ago today. (click here to read exactly what happened)

I often ponder what God must have been thinking the days leading up to this moment. Was He excited? Was He smiling? Did He wonder what choice I would make when given the opportunity? Or did He already know? What did God think about this moment?

Of all my experiences the past 5 years, it was in this moment where everything stood in the balance.  I could go and open the knocking door, face the truth and begin to change. Or I could open the door, continue living in denial and run from reality like I had done for so long. This moment offered two distinct options. Freedom or continued bondage.

I’ve often said that what changed for me in that moment was the choice I made to finally confess. Instead of arguing over details or trying to manipulate my way out of it, I just admitted the truth that everyone else already knew. I was caught and it was time to get honest. It was my moment.

Since that moment at roughly 10AM on April 6th 2011 nothing has been the same. Life has truly been magical.

That magic moment brought so much truth into my life. I learned that confrontation breeds change. That God is not, was not and will never be, mad at me. I realized that He had a plan for my life. I began to see that my life was worth living and living to the full. I chose freedom and I’m so glad I did.

That moment changed me forever.

I believe moments like this happen every day for so many of us. I believe God provides “a way out” of pain, divorce, addiction, guilt, shame and resentment all the time. Sometimes it’s through people and sometimes it’s through circumstances. But the moments of change are always present. Freedom is always one moment away.

The question is, “What will you do with the moments God gives you today?”

Could it be that the life you’ve always wanted hangs in the balance of the choices you make in the moments God gives you today?

My life is proof that that is possible.

So make the most of the moments God gives you. Choose to embrace challenge, step into confrontation and as often as you can, confess you baggage.

Life is meant to be lived free. May you step into the moments that God gives you today and find the freedom you deserve.

Hope is Alive!

 

3 Signs Parents of Addicts Should Look For

When it comes to relapse, there’s a huge difference between someone who is early in their sobriety and those who have a few weeks, months, or years under their belt. No one is immune to relapse—“one day at a time,” and all that—but just like a newborn baby stands a greater chance of catching a cold than a healthy teenager does, those who are new to sobriety do run a more significant risk of relapsing.

When you’re learning to live sober, each day is a grind, and presents huge obstacles to overcome in order to stay clean. The smallest of disagreements, comments, or change in the weather can send someone spinning directly back to their old ways.

So you may be wondering: is there any way you can spot a potential for relapse before it actually hits? As it so happens, yes! As I’ve worked with different addicts over the years, I’ve come to notice three major signs that a person in early sobriety is headed down the road to a destination they want to avoid. 

They Start Thinking They’re Really Special

Let me say this: everyone is special in God’s eyes. You are. Your addicted loved one is. I really hope you hear me on this so that no one gets me wrong or gets their feelings hurt. We are all beautiful, unique creations, purposefully created to do what only each of us can do.

But when it comes to the addict’s recovery, they need to hear me loud and clear: “YOU ARE NOT SPECIAL!”

Those who are early into sobriety simply cannot go out and do their own thing and expect it to work. There is a reason why they ended up where they did: because their way didn’t work! They need to get used to doing things the new way; a way that countless others have discovered.

See, there is a solution to the problems that those who are recovering from addiction encounter, and that solution has worked for millions and millions of other people. It leads to a life filled with purpose, passion, and joy! It’s a great life, but no one will get there by thinking they are immune to the rules, or that they can find their own way there.

Addicts: you cannot drag your old life into this new one; it has to stay behind where you left it so you can follow what has worked for others.

They Get In A Relationship

You know what the number one cause for relapse is? Romantic relationships. It’s the biggest issue among people early in recovery. Why? Because newly sober addicts are not emotionally stable enough to handle the rigors of relationships.

Good, healthy, long-lasting relationships take a lot of work, and for the early seasons of your sobriety your focus needs to be on you, not anyone else. That is why I fully subscribe to this tried and true recovery suggestion: No romantic relationships with anyone for the first full year of your sobriety.

Now, most of the people I work with don’t like this rule, but here’s what I’ve come to find out. The men and women who really want to stay clean will do what’s proven to work for other people, while the people who really don’t want it will think they’re special (see the previous sign, in case you’ve forgotten about it during the last few paragraphs) and go jump in a relationship.

Look, relationships are emotionally demanding and require a ton of hard work—and that’s when you’re sober! Addicts shouldn’t complicate their early sobriety by trying to cruise for their future spouse at an AA meeting. It just won’t work and is an extremely bad idea.

They Refuse To Tell Anyone They’re Sober

This is almost a guarantee for relapse: make sure no one knows they’re trying to stay sober.

Now, it’s not up to you to prod your loved one into telling their story of addiction and sobriety, or who they should tell that story to, but it’s a great idea to be aware of how forward they are being with their struggle. If they’re hiding it from everyone, not telling anyone at work or at church or at small group, then they’re pointing in the wrong direction.

I know that can sound a little harsh, but it just wears me out to watch people struggle with relapse time and time again only to find out no one even knew they were trying to stay clean in the first place! I tell guys and gals all the time: you don’t have to tell the whole world you’re clean like I did, but the more people an addict can tell about the new life they’re reclaiming for themselves, the more accountability they’ll have when it gets rough.

If no one knows, no one can help.

Historically, sobriety has been an anonymous journey. And trust me, I understand why it started that way. But in today’s society, I think that can be counterproductive and only ends up limiting the social protection for an addict—and for the family of an addict. Because you are not immune to the trials and tribulations of recovery, either. This is going to take a toll on you and all the other people who are in the same familial orbit as your loved one.

So just know: in the end, the more people who know what you’re going through, the more people can help you when you have to go through a rough patch.

For more on relapse behaviour and what to look our for with your child, spouse or friend, pick up my new book: Finding Hope.

Break Out of the Shells

I don’t know how the phrase “walking on eggshells” came about. I don’t know what it means, exactly, or what historical thing it’s referencing. What I do know is this: I hear it a lot, especially from moms and dads, spouses, siblings, and other friends and family members of addicts.

I will meet with an addict’s loved ones during the early stages of recovery, and inevitably one of them will say, “I just feel like I have to walk on eggshells around them.” What they mean—and what you’ve probably meant if you’ve said the same thing—is that you’re worried. You are living with the constant fear that anything you say or do could be taken the wrong way, and then they’ll be out the door and headed for relapse.

It makes sense. After all, they weren’t the most emotionally stable, rational person while they were using! They’ve trained you not to believe in their behavior, and they’ve trained you really well.

So what can you do?

First of all, realize that their sobriety is their responsibility, not yours.

One of the things they’re learning is to take ownership of their decisions, which is something they hadn’t done in the past (and why they were so irrational and moody). It’s new to them, so it’s going to be a little jarring and, just like a toddler does more falling down than walking at first, it’s going to take them awhile to get used to it.

That’s okay! You still can be kind and caring without littering your life with eggshells.

The other thing you definitely need in your life is a positive support group around you. You need to connect with other people who either have gone or who are going through the same ordeal as you, and who can provide encouragement to you through this time. And an extra bonus feature: you get to support them, too! It’s a win-win!

Just like addicts need other addicts to lean on and to say, “I understand; I’ve been there,” you too need other family members, spouses, siblings, or parents to say the same thing. You won’t believe the tremendous emotional and physical benefits you’ll get from regular interactions with other family members like yourself. I cannot encourage you enough to find a program and stick with it. Don’t let anything stop you from doing this. Not pride, or fear, or telling yourself you don’t really need it. None of that.

You need a support group. Join one! And there’s no better time then right now! It’s the start of a new year, filled with NEW promises and NEW hopes. So today, make a resolution to find a support group and get plugged in!

If you live in the OKC area I would personally like to invite you to join the parents/spouse support groups I host called “Finding Hope”.  In fact, we have a group meeting tonight and you can come as my guest!

Click here to see the times & locations of the Finding Hope classes in OKC.

Hope is Alive!

The Best Thing My Mom Ever Did

My good friend Floyd works down at Rob’s Ranch, a treatment center in Central Oklahoma for men struggling with chemical dependency. He’s the health and nutrition supervisor, and makes a point to spend time with many of the families each weekend as they arrive for visitation. In conversations around the dining room table, I’ve heard him tell parents this about hundred times…

“The best thing my mom ever did for me was leave me in jail.”

It’s always fun to see the responses, especially those who have loved ones caught up in the grips of addiction. If you’re like that, you’ve probably wondered if you should have followed Floyd’s mom’s lead and done the same thing a time or two.

  • Leave them in jail
  • Leave them on the street
  • Don’t give them any more money
  • Take away their car
  • Turn their phone off
  • Change your locks

What Ms. Carter did, saved her son’s life. But it wasn’t an easy decision. Allowing kids to reap the consequences of their choices never is.

But it’s often the best thing you can do.

A few years ago, my then-eleven-year-old son asked me, with tears in his eyes, if he could quit football. He wasn’t seeing any playing time, and some of the kids had been giving him a hard time.

“Please, Dad!” he pleaded, standing on that field after a just-finished practice, and staring me right in the eyes. “Let me quit!”

In that moment, I wanted to ease my son’s pain, to let him off the hook, and give him a quick way to find relief. It seemed like the right decision; after all, he was hurting.

Letting him quit would’ve been the convenient decision. But it was not the RIGHT decision.

Yes, I could have let him walk off the field that night and instantly relieved the hurt and embarrassment he was feeling, but it would’ve only done so temporarily. Instead, all I would have done was bailed him out, set him up to be a quitter the rest of his life, or, worse yet, potentially crippled his ability to work through pain.

I’m so glad I didn’t. Instead, I had a talk with him about pushing through difficult things, the power of perseverance, and all the ways he could grow if he just stuck with it for a little while longer.

He went back to practice the next day, and though not a lot changed for him in terms of the game of football, the character in his heart grew stronger, even if he didn’t realize it.

Bailing our kids out is a natural reaction, and just to be clear: sometimes it makes sense. There are times when we do, as parents, need to rescue or advocate for our kids.

But I would say that, more often than not, we probably don’t need to slap the training wheels back on our kids’ lives.

It’s tempting, though, because our brains and hearts justify that as love. We feel like the savior, the hero…. “Daddy or Mommy to the rescue!”

But what are we really saving them from?

Are we saving them from pain? Poisonous relationships? Prison time? Or are we just keeping them from learning vitally important life lessons—the types of lessons that will help them arrive at that crucial place where reality sets in, and help begins to make sense.

You see, each time we step in and take away the pleasure of earned consequences, we take one step closer to enabling, and they take one step closer to addiction.

The weight of enabling grows heavier and heavier as our kids turn to adults. And when you begin to enable your children, you begin to walk a fine line that typically doesn’t end well.

I speak with families every week who look me in the eyes and say, “I know I’ve enabled him; I know we bailed him out one too many times.” Each time I hear this, it scares me to my core.

Why?

Because this is a recipe for years of pain, guilt, and possibly an early death.

I get it—no one wants to watch their kids suffer. But if you are faced with a situation, as Ms. Carter was, when time and time again your child has made destructive choices while consistently looking to you to bail them out, I urge you to follow her lead.

Will that be easy? I’ve never had to go through it personally, but I can imagine it’s one of the most difficult choices a parent might have to make. I know for a fact that Ms. Carter hated to see Floyd suffer, but look what happened: that suffering was temporary, and now on the other side of it there stands a man of character, endurance, and hope; a man who can testify that he came through the suffering and it turned out okay.

Sometimes the best thing a parent can do is to let go and let God do what he needs to do.

For more on enabling, setting boundaries and learning how to live with addict in your family, pick up my new book: Finding Hope.

10 Signs Your Kid Has A Problem

What makes an addict an “addict”? At what point do they cross the line? What does an unmanageable life look like? What percentage of their income do they need to start spending on their drug of choice before we call it a problem? Does it only become an addiction if they tip over into doing illegal things? What about smoking weed, is that okay because it’s legal in some states? (more…)


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