Thoughts on detachment

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by toughlovin, Feb 18, 2011.

  1. toughlovin

    toughlovin Guest

    In a couple of different threads a couple of you have said you are not good at I have been thinking about detachment and what it is.

    It seems to me there are two parts to detachment. One is internal to us.... being able to go on and live a good life, have peace and serenity, enjoy life no matter how bad our kids are doing or what they are doing. I really don't know how to do this. And I think when we say we are not good at detachment this is what we are talking about. I know for me it is really hard for me to be happy when my son is doing horribly. I managed to get through the day when he was in jail but I still thought and worried about him all the time. With alanon I am getting a little better at this piece.... how to love them, care about them, but let them go enough so that I can enjoy life no matter what choices he is making.

    The other piece though is from their point of view. I was dying inside at one point when he called me from where he was staying because the neighbor had beat him up. He was crying and a mess and I know he expected me to drop everything and come and get him. I didn't. It was an awful moment for me. The other time that was really hard was when he was in jail, thinking about what he would do when he got out and we told him he could not come home. I think that was pretty hard for him to hear....but we told him he could not come home until he got treatment. He said where will I go? I said I don't know, i will look at treatment places, but if you don't want to do that you will have to figure it out. It was very hard for me to be so tough but I knew that is what I had to do. It helped that part of me knew I had to do it for the sake of my daughter which is another story. So again it killed me inside to do that. BUT he did not know that. From his point of view I had detachment....I was no longer rescuing and saving him. I was setting limits and boundaries.

    So those of you who don't think you are good at detachment (Nancy I am thinking of you), yet you are setting boundaries and limits because you know you have to do that for your child because bottom line is you love them too much not to. To me that is part of detachment!!

    To me the first part of detachment is setting those boundaries and limits so that they learn they can not walk all over you, take advantage of you, that you will no longer enable them.

    The other piece of learning to love life no matter what they are doing comes later I think..... I don't really know because I don't have that piece either.

    This may not be what the literature says about detachment but it is the way I think about it.
  2. dashcat

    dashcat Member

    Thank you for this post, TL. I've been thinking alot about detachment, too. ... and, especially, how (this is in my particular case) I have to set boundaries situationally. My difficult child is - for the most part - a sweet and loving young woman. Beneath the surface, though, is a person leading a double life. There are so many lies and so many weird and dramatic situations, that it is mind boggling. When I'm setting my boundaries, I try to keep the lines of communication open without caving in to the manipulation No small task.

    She lives with her dad, aka Mr. Ostrich. She does not work, has no responsiblities at his home (Oh, Wait! she must empty the dishwasher each day!), spends almost every night at her boyfriend's house, no longer pays rent to Ostrich, but seems to have money for gas. Ostrich is going on vacation and doesn't want her to stay at his condo. ...not because she and boyfriend will play house or because of the real possiblity of her having men she meets on the internet there .... but becuase she is sloppy and his cleaning lady is coming while he's gone.

    My boundaries in this situation are: She can stay with me if she chooses. I will not "make" her (much to his dismay, I refuse to play "bad cop" here). IF she stays with me, she will do productive work (I have all sorts of stuff lined up for her) at least six hours a day, five days per week. I'm on disability, and I still do productive work ... so can she. She sleeps here, not at boyfriend's. My house, my rules.

    My boundary (at this point) is not that she cannot stay here, but that she cannot stay here with the lifestyle she is currently leading.

    She had a decent savings account when she went away to college, as I made her bank 1/2 of her babysitting paychecks for a period of six years. She blew through her savings on hotel rooms with an internet guy, through traffic tickets and buying a car. She quit a steady job for a seasonal job and is now out of work ... not even looking. Her passenger window in her car fell into the door and the door has to be disessembled in order to fix it.

    My boundary? Sigh. I did try to protect your savings, but it is gone now. You'll have to figure out how to fund this.

    Now, if she called me crying and begged me to come get her from a situation.... I would do it. Once.

    I'm careful to spell out my boundaries up front. "No, I will not take you and internet dude apartment hunting." In fact, I refused to even meet internet dude, and I'm glad I didn't. Ostrich had them over for dinner, drove them to their hotel love nest and let them use the car to look for apartments. She'd "known" this guy for less than a week! When Ostrich wants to set a "boundary", he does it through avoidance "You can't use the car to hunt for apartments because I need it today. And tomorrow. " This just keeps her feeling as though she's in control ... and she is. It makes me absolutely crazy but, (detachment again) there's not a thing I can I let it go.

    Now, as to the boundaries of the heart ... that is a far more difficult matter. I can say that, through very hard work, I've been able to Let Go and Let God to some degree. ...but not completely,and I don't think I ever will. The best I can do is one day at a time, and some days are better than others. I think detachment is an ongoing and everchanging process.

  3. AHF

    AHF Member

    These are very helpful posts. I also take a cue from a dear friend who lost her son, her only child, at the age of 31. He was an addict, living on the other coast, and he tended to call her in the wee hours with the latest crisis. So one night he called at 3 a.m. and she told him she was sleeping and he needed to call back in the morning. The next morning, he was dead from an overdose. This is an example of my worst fear, and I have known this mother as she worked her way through it. She mourns him still--some 10 years later--and says there is not a day when she does not think about him. But she is in a wonderful relationship; she has moved closer to family and friends; she gets involved with volunteer activities and life. She has been immensely helpful to me though of course (or maybe because) she has no solutions. And while she sometimes asks the "what if" question--what if she had stayed on the phone, that night?--I don't think she rakes herself over the coals about it. I'd like to achieve that kind of grace.
  4. everywoman

    everywoman Active Member

    I have been a member of this board since my difficult child was 15. He is now 22---seven long years. Detachment is a daily struggle. To me detachment means I can still love and care about my son, but I can allow him to live with the consequences of his choices. I still accept phone calls, but hang up if he starts being argumentative. I help him out occasionally with money--if it's convenient for me. I do not spend my time looking for resources to help him anymore---he had every chance in the world between the ages of 15 and 21 and he chose to not do the work required to make his life better. He will never live in my home again. He will not guilt me into paying his way. I love and adore him--but I will not be his bank, his psychiatrist, his social worker ever again.
  5. Hound dog

    Hound dog Nana's are Beautiful

    Detachment to me is allowing my kids to make their own mistakes and learn from them. easy child and difficult child alike.

    That sounds soooo easy, doesn't it? With easy child's it's not so hard, but then their mistakes tend to not be so bad either. With difficult's a whole other story.

    Katie burned me out in a major way on the rescuing bit. So that's not as big an issue with me.

    Detaching emotion wise to me is an on going process. One I'm pretty good at with the adult children........I'm only learning to let go with the grandchildren, and let me tell you that is hard as heck to do. But I'm getting better at putting that responsibility where it belongs.

    Mine is knowing when to keep my mouth shut and when to speak up and bring something to their attention. Thankfully these moments don't happen often, which means I get to keep my mouth shut most of the time and avoid sticking my foot in it.
  6. Bean

    Bean Member

    What a great post.

    I keep thinking (and saying) that detachment sucks. But, really, it is a natural part of parenting. Even with a relatively peaceful child, you have to be able to love them, but allow them to live their own life. In the case of a not-so-peaceful child, that allowance is more difficult because we are aware of the harm it can cause.

    I also think that it is different, even with different children. The idea stays the same, but the allowances might change. Like, I could loan one of my children $5, knowing they will pay it back. But my difficult child child, I could loan it to her, but chances are I'd never see it come back my way, and I know there is a good chance it will go to drugs.

    Or Christmas each kid gets money from a grandparent. Each kid we allow to spend it on whatever they want, allowing them to learn from saving or spending. It's hard to watch the younger ones blow it on trivial things - but it is their choice. Sometimes they save it, and reap the rewards of that. It's even harder to watch my daughter walk out with that same amount of money, knowing what she will spend it on. It is detachment to be able to watch her go, have that knowledge, but turn around and go on with my life.

    The more difficult the child, most likely the more difficult the detachment. It's pretty hard to know your kid is homeless on the streets with a heavy addiction, and you are helpless to do a dang thing about it. But you need to work, you need to function, and you might need to raise other kids and keep a marriage going, get food on the table.

    I'm babbling. I think I'm just having a hard time right now.
  7. AnnieO

    AnnieO Shooting from the Hip

    I seriously need to work on my own detachment. To let Onyxx make her bad choices. To let husband make his shortsighted choices.

    Not sure I can...
  8. KFld

    KFld New Member

    All of these posts are great. There is no rule book as far as I'm concerned for detatchment and everyone has a different level of detachment that they can live happily with. I feel it goes with gut instinct. Sometimes I'm really good at detatchment and other times it just kills me!! I can get to the point where I can detatch enough to enjoy daily life, but it doesn't mean he isn't in my thoughts 24/7 :(
  9. Nancy

    Nancy Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Wow is this pertinent tonight especially. Thank you for your insight toughlovin and i agree with what you said. I think I had sort of an epiphany tonight when I finally felt free and ready to go on with my life, in spite of the fact that my difficult child has been kicked out of the house and is spiralling out of control. For me I have to find a way to reclaim my life, to find those things that made me happy before all this insanity, and to be able to put the fears I have for difficult child in a compartment which I will not open very often.

    I found myself not being able to get through the day worrying about what she would eat or where she would sleep, and then I would see her posting messages to her fb friends about getting high and getting her tongue pierced and having a ball and I realized I was the only one in this relationship that worried about her, certainly she wasn't. So I had to ask myself why I was so worried if she was happy with her life, and I decided that I needed to stop that insanity. I will always love her. I will always worry about her. If I allow that compartment to open a crack I will even find myself in a panic. But I need to do my best to keep that closed so that She understands she cannot compromise those boundaries that I set.

    AHF thank you for that post. I hope to achieve that kind of grace and peace too. My difficult child told me today that she was going to kill herslef and when I saw her dead body I could thank myself for it. A calm finally came over me and I told her that I hoped she didn't kill herself but that the drugs and alcohol were killing her anyway and I couldn't stop that. In the end if her life ended today I would grieve but I would hopefully know that I have done everything I could and it is not my fault. I think I have peace about that.

    I love you all. You have no idea how you have helped me.

  10. Nomad

    Nomad Guest

    TL...what a great post! I love what you said here:

    To me the first part of detachment is setting those boundaries and limits so that they learn they can not walk all over you, take advantage of you, that you will no longer enable them.

    The other piece of learning to love life no matter what they are doing comes later I think.....

    I think that is most of it right there! I think detachment is not so much about or for our kids, but about and for us.

    Our daughter is doing some really frightening things at the moment. This happens periodically. She is not taking her medications. True, I am a bit anxious. I come here more often during these events.

    However, for the most part...I am calm...I am at peace. And I REALLY mean this. The reason is, that I know that no matter what....I WILL BE OK. Naturally, I hope that she too will be ok. Hexk, my difficult child (as most of the ones here) seem to land on their feet somehow.

    But, I've rode this rollercoaster too many times to let it influence me and my life more than just a little blip. Life moves on and I intend to enjoy it to fullest. I have the peace that comes when you know that NO MATTER WHAT...I will survive....and be strong.

    Can't say when I got to this point. I think it was a decision that I made. A choice. A super duper hard choice.

    I am not a robot and have moments that my mommy heart hurts. It is normal. IT is grief. But, because I love myself, because I love life...I make the choice to put it aside...remember my strength and move forward.
  11. C.Z.W.

    C.Z.W. New Member

    Good Morning Everyone,

    I'm only a few hours old newbie but this topic is right on target for me. I just wanted to thank all of you for sharing your stories, thoughts, advice and most importantly support. "When the student is ready the teacher appears", I'm so grateful that I stumbled on to this site and I am so READY.
  12. scent of cedar

    scent of cedar New Member

    Very well put, Toughlovin'. To the first statement, I would add that, much as we need to establish healthy boundaries so the kids learn they can't walk all over us anymore, we need to teach OURSELVES that the kids can't walk all over us, anymore. So many times, we were so flabbergasted by what was happening that we reacted to the crisis of the moment on automatic. It wasn't until the other parents on the site convinced me that yes, bad things were probably going to happen again and I had best be prepared, and then, gave me actual words to say actual responses to make, that I was able to get a handle on that so important piece of detaching.

    And you know what? The things they taught me worked.

    I made a hard copy of that post and those responses, and kept it by the phone, so I would remember the exact phrase when difficult child would call in trouble. It's so hard to think straight when terrible things are happening to our kids.

    I think that series of posts is still in the Archives, here. If you haven't seen it, check it out. It helped me set my feet on the ground. Once I was able to touch bottom, I was able to keep going in that healthier direction. (And as an aside? difficult child learned to HATE this site!)

    The second part of your quote, Toughlovin' ~ about learning to love life despite what is happening to your child...I did not get that one for a long time, either.
    What I came to understand though, is that when your child is ready to chose a different lifestyle (and what the kids are doing IS a choice), he or she will need a healthy, functioning role model who believes he or she has the intrinsic value, and the strength, to pull themselves out of the life they have been living.

    That, I can do. I am the only one who knows who that child was before the addiction sank its hooks into him. I know all the fine things about who he really is, and who he was meant to be. I know the gifts he might have brought into the world, and I believe in him.

    That is why I chose the quote about faith at the bottom of my posts.

    And this helped me.

    I hold faith with the young man I could see so clearly before the addiction changed him.

    This understanding enabled me to know how to react to the continuing strangeness intrinsic to parenting an addicted child/adult. I had a clearer picture of who he was meant to be, and this helped me make the correct responses to the person he had morphed into. I was able to say, with a clear conscience, "You were raised better." "I expect more." "You are better than the life you have chosen."

    And I began hearing those thoughts mirrored back to me when difficult child would find himself caught up in situations he shouldn't have been in, with people he should never have come to know in the first place.

    It was a place for me to stand.

    And the depression lifted. The sense of shame was lessened. I could view my child, myself, our extended family, with compassion for our loss. I was able to name what was lost and so, grieve appropriately and let it go.

    So, that is what helped us.

    Faith in our child, and in the goodness I KNOW is in him.

    It's been a long journey. difficult child is making his way back. Much has been lost (my dreams, mostly). But it is never too late to walk a different direction, if you have someone in your life, in your background, who believes that you can.

    Had difficult child never turned around, that belief in him still would have held me up.

    Know that I wish you well, Toughlovin'. I'm so sorry this happened to you, and to your family.

  13. toughlovin

    toughlovin Guest

    Thanks Scent of Cedar for your wisdom and experience. I hand't thought about how important that believe in them, that they can be a better person, that they can live a good life is. I struggle holding on to that belief because so often i don't see that better person now... but you know what I know that other people do. Our son is so shut down with us that he rarely shows really any part of himself to us.... but he does show it to others so his therapists see it, other people see the good person he can be. And we know from knowing him when he was little and different things that that person is in there somewhere. Yet when something happens that shows me once again his darker side it is hard for me to let my worry about that side go.

    I am getting better about being clear about what I need to do in situations and when it is time to say I have done what I can and now it is time to let it go.....but actually letting it go is harder for me to do. It still sits in the back of mind and bothers me and yet I know there is nothing more I can do.
  14. scent of cedar

    scent of cedar New Member

    Don't let the darker side go, Toughlovin'. Call your son ~ your real son, the one you raised, the one you KNOW is in there and knows better, on his behaviors. Say things like "You were raised better!" and "I deserve better from you!" and "I want you to stop this **** NOW!" He won't act like he hears you? He may even ridicule you for daring to say such things to him? (Ours did. Remember that the addict in them will hurt you any way they can, to get you to buckle, and to enable the continued drug use.) But when the chips are down, those are the words he will remember, and that is where the strength he needs to beat the addiction will come from. He is better than what he is doing, now. It isn't solely about trying to love our kids despite what they do ~ it truly is about parenting, about being a strong role model and mentor. If drugs are not a piece of what is happening to your son, the vision of the strong mother who isn't scared or broken by the wrong ways her child has chosen is still a good one. Someone who expects him to come back to who he is provides a first, beginning way for him TO come back.

    Sometimes that doesn't seem like alot? But you are his mother. Your words will echo down the years as no one else's can.

    I forgot that for awhile, too. But when I remembered? It worked. It worked for me, making me stronger and giving me a place to stand and, eventually, it helped my son, too.

    I know that feeling you are describing, Toughlovin'. I wish there were some marker for parents like us ~ parents who are losing their children a piece at a time. We live with the certainty of death or disfigurement every day.

    Every single day.

    Every time the phone rings late at night, our hearts are in our mouths.

    If our children survive it, the dreams we saw coming true so clearly in them before the addiction are destroyed, washed away as though they never existed.

    We are suffering. We grieve endlessly, and cannot, ever, let go, because it isn't over, yet. What we can do though, is learn coping skills. The most helpful thing I learned to do was (thanks, Suz, if you are reading this) to say the Serenity Prayer until I got it. When I couldn't sleep, when I would wake up anxious, certain he was dead or starving or cold...I would say it again and again, until I could stand it.

    It helped me.

    I will put it here for you now, just in case you don't have it handy, Toughlovin'.

    Again, I am so sorry for your pain.

    God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    the Courage to change the things I can,
    and the Wisdom to know the difference.

    Know that I wish you and yours well, Toughlovin'.

  15. dashcat

    dashcat Member

    It isn't solely about trying to love our kids despite what they do ~ it truly is about parenting, about being a strong role model and mentor.

    Oh this is so true, Barbara. And it is this fine line we warrior parents walk - every single day - with our kids. The Serenity Prayer is the mantra for loving detachment. It isn't about detaching in the sense of walking away, it's about staying strong, never giving up and knowing and accepting what we cannot control or change.
    (ps - thanks. I needed that!)
  16. scent of cedar

    scent of cedar New Member

    I needed this too, Dash. I return to the site again and again for the strength I find, here.

    We are amazing. :O)

  17. AHF

    AHF Member

    I like the thoughts about "the son that is still in there." But I have to say, I wonder. Sometimes I feel as though my son has been murdered, and the difficult child standing in front of me, or talking to me on the phone, is his murderer. That is, he has systematically and deliberately cut from himself all the things that made him the sweet, optimistic, vulnerable person he was. What we have now is a shell filled with emotional toxins. I know that's pessimistic. But sometimes I feel I should detach by accepting this image, by (in essence) mourning my son who is gone forever, even as the ties that bind keep me trying to help this empty-eyed young man who has appeared in his stead. Does anyone else ever feel this way?
  18. Star*

    Star* call 911


    I think a lot of times we do thinking that is so extreme for the sake of shrouding ourself from more hurts.....we hurt ourself even more. My therapist once told me "The death of a dream is sometimes more painful than the death of an actual child." I believe that's true. Death is final. Death of a dream continually perpetuates itself in our minds as a possibility of what could be. For your friend - her pain lies in the sadness of never knowing what will be ever - there is no chance her son will come back, while that is painful it's over. For you - your pain lies in the sadness of hope - knowing that there can be a something, your son can come back, and he makes choices for himself that are poor, and they hurt over and over. I think in identifying with your friends pain? You are cheating yourself of hope. Hope is eternal - Death is final. You can't prepare yourself for the death of hope. If you prepare yourself now for death? I think you will feel very cheated, not very prepared.

    Do I or have I ever felt that way? Sure. It's a seemingly safe place we lie and say "I'll be safe here, I'll put my heart here, and nothing will happen." Life, AHF happens. Death, happens. I didn't plan on burying a son 11 years ago at age 18 after he rode a bull in an arena. All those years of riding without a vest - then the first year, the first RIDE - the P.B.A. mandates all riders wear a vest, his first bull, his first event - he gets slammed into the wall - and gets a blood clot? He went to the ER, they put him on medicine. All seemed fine. He went on with life, got married, got a home, life seemed great. He woke up, the clot broke, went to his brain, caused an aneurysm, and he drown in his own blood. Life support kept him alive for 3 days while everyone (his bio mom, family) ripped our hearts out to make a decision - make him a living vegetable, take him off life support? No parent should have to ever go through that. We did the best thing for him, and took him off life support.
    Six years later another young man would come into our lives to stay. Dudes worst enemy, then best friend. He just never left our home and became our other son. He was a difficult child as well as Dude. Two months apart, and life was fun - he wasn't really a problem for us - he was for his bio Mom. And one night on Friday the 13th two years ago? He was driving, flipped a car, and burned alive behind the wheel taking two other people with him. Dude still hasn't recovered, I struggle with it, it's definitely had it's moments. But it changed my thoughts on how I felt about Dudes relationship even with the worst behavior immaginable. To think in my mind that he's 'dead' to me - not fathomable at this point. Kari is dead. Steven is dead. Dude while a complete jerk at times? Alive - fixable, changeable, hope.....Hopeful always me - hopeful.

    Always me lowering my expectations to the point of - Dear Lord, allow him to be healthy, happy, walk and breath today - that's it. Amen. From - How about a prosperous, veterinarian that is able to perform miracles and has his own house, bank account, calls me once a day, happy life, happy wife, children - blah blah, blah. Yeah - my dreams constantly evolving for him too. So I changed my thinking from death of a dream too - to evolution of a dream....I'm down to basics now and if I can just have those granted? After knowing what all really can be taken out of my life? I am thankful for whatever - and if just that little I as for isn't possible? I'm thankful for what I do have - I'll work with what I'm given.

    Hope this helps.

    Hugs & Love
  19. scent of cedar

    scent of cedar New Member

    That is exactly how I felt too, AHF. (Beautifully written description.) The trap we are in, as parents of addicted or problem children, is that until they are gone from this earth or they get better, truly letting go is impossible. We are living in a nightmare world of loss and waste and destruction...and every day it gets worse. We see our children changing before our eyes and there is nothing, nothing we can do to help or to make it stop. We search our consciences for things that might have happened to cause this, things we might have done differently, warning signs we should have acknowledged, possible new treatments or strategies ~ anything, anything that might make a difference. We are destroying our own health, letting our marriages suffer, taking precious time from our other children and our extended families and careers. But nothing changes. Our addicted children suffer. We suffer with and for them. All the while, we go to work, we cook and shop and clean the house and do the laundry...but at night, we don't sleep. There is no calmness for us, no sense of completion or peace. That is why we need to learn how to cope with what has happened to us, and to our children. Because until that child is better, until there is an ending, a conclusion, these feeling will not go away. We need to fight for ourselves, and once we are strong enough again, fight that murderer who took our child hostage.

    We need a place to stand, a place where we can put our feet on the ground and name what has happened to us, and to our children. Once we can see clearly, we can plot a course through the pain.

    That you see the murderer in the eyes of the man who looks like your son means you need to look into his heart ~ or yours. The child he was will be there, suffering. That is who you speak to, that is who you interact with. The murderer, the hostage taker, gets nothing.


    I found great strength in this kind of thinking, AHF. It seems true to me still, even today. I owe the murderer NOTHING. He is someone I don't know or understand. His only value is that he has my son.

    And I really do think that kind of thinking helped my son see his way out. The more I thought about it like that, the more I could see how true it was, and the more clearly I could see, and talk to, my son in there. It became easy to cold shoulder the hostage taker, the addict, the murderer.

    And I got stronger.

    And you will, too.

    And I was able to help my family heal, because that kind of thinking made sense to them, too. The person who has been so hurtful to all of us is not the person we knew and loved. That person is gone, taken hostage, suffering away in a lonely prison because no one believes in him, anymore.

    In the end, it comes down to our survival. How in the world are we to come through this successfully? It may not make sense to anyone else, but this kind of thinking helped me.

    As always, wishing each of us strength, and peace, and courage.

  20. scent of cedar

    scent of cedar New Member

    Oh, Star ~ I'm so sorry. I don't think I ever knew the full story of what had happened to you, and to your family.

    It's very nice to "see" you again, Star. :O)