What's My Payoff?

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by Albatross, Jul 5, 2014.

  1. Albatross

    Albatross Well-Known Member

    I don't know if I am just feeling particularly introspective today, but today I have been wondering WHY I continued to try to "fix" things for my son long after the rational part of me had all the evidence she could possibly need that it was time to stop.

    A lot of it was fear. There was of course the fear that he didn't understand the consequences and wouldn't do for himself, and then where would that leave him? There was the fear that underneath it all was a condition I didn't fully appreciate, that maybe he COULDN'T live independently and forcing him to try would be cruel.

    And there was of course that DNA imperative that COM and Cedar have pointed out, that biological imperative to protect him at all costs.

    There was guilt, over the fact that there are many alcoholics in my family and he likely "inherited" it from my side, so I should cut him more breaks.

    But the rational part of me realizes that none of these are reasons to protect a grown man from facing the consequences of his bad choices.

    So why did I do it? This is an ugly truth to admit, but part of it is sadly because there was a big payoff in it for me.

    Part of it was just laziness or exhaustion, not wanting to deal with the hassle and the ugly confrontation of calling him on his BS.

    Part of it was vanity, that in the eyes of others a kid leading a certain way of life reflected well on my parenting.

    And a large part of it was my emotional payoff.

    My mom died when I was a teenager, and I determined early on to be a large part of my kids' lives, **like it or not!!**

    Wow, what a burden for them to bear, to try to ease my pain over something that happened a decade before they were conceived.

    Part of it was because fixing things and juggling things made me feel quite competent. And the more things I juggled, the more sacrifices I made, and the more high drama I had to share with others, the better I felt about myself.

    In those ways, I probably held him back from becoming the man he needed to be, all the while wondering why he wasn't growing up.

    How very sad.

    I am not saying this is all my fault or trying to find new and creative new ways to pile more guilt and responsibility on myself for his bad choices. But today I am thinking my aim has been off in who I should be "fixing." I am thinking today that the focus of my efforts to rebuild our relationship needs to be on MYSELF, recognizing what baggage I bring to the situation and trying to not let it interfere with the truth of what is, today.

    Not sure where I am going with this, just random Saturday ramblings that I wanted to share.
  2. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I think your thoughts are extremely important in our own healing and our own integration and wholeness.

    I think we all bring our own stuff to the table whether we are conscious of that stuff or not, it looms large in our perceptions and choices. As has been pointed out many times, most of us here are people who are very good at taking control, we get the job done, we are accomplishers of the highest degree...............however, along with all of that, there are components of control and taking charge that are negative and at least in my estimation, at the least, require self examination. How we get that way is for each of us to discover, how we shift it and heal it and change it, is what is important now.

    When I began looking at my own issues regarding my daughter, I began to be able to change the dynamic between she and I. I have power over myself, I can heal, I can change, I can shift my perceptions, I can transform, I have much control and power over ME. As I made these changes, as I looked at my own control issues and my own fears and sorrows, my responses to my daughter began to change. First the changes were small. Lately they have been more obvious.

    I took a two year course in Codependency which was all about ME. The therapists in the program were addressing MY issues of fear, control, enabling...........I learned that my responses to my daughter were based on my issues. And, if that were true, then I could change those responses. And, I did. We were told repeatedly in the course, that very often, once the parents change their responses to their adult kids issues, the kids themselves change. I don't think that is a reason to change, nor it is something to expect, nor is it always going to happen, but we were told that it happens frequently.

    For me, I brought up my daughter in ways similar to my parents and in other ways opposite of my parents in my attempts to not inflict some of the hurts that were inflicted on me by wounded people. However, my own wounds, out of my awareness to some degree, infiltrated my parenting in ways I could not readily see until the Codependency program. Unfortunately, enabling, rescuing, codependency or simply indulging children can be seen as positive attributes by not only ourselves but those around us who pat us on the back for being such good parents. There is a lot invested in us as parents, we take bows when our kids are winners and we take the hits when our kids are "losers" so we have our own strong connection to how well or how badly our kids do in the world.

    I found it complicated to untangle where I ended and where my daughter began, where her responsibility for her life began and my responsibility for her life ended. It took a lot of reflection, tools and support for me to distinguish the components that make up what parenting is, when to step in and when to let go. It was a lot of work, I didn't arrive there without a lot of my own letting go of concepts, beliefs and misguided wishes and desires (as in your determination to be a large part of your kids lives like it or not. ) Those expectations of ourselves can be mighty weighty and out of proportion to reality and what the situation calls for. They become cemented views we follow without thinking, wrecking its own havoc and often out of our awareness.

    I had my own moment of clarification when I realized that when my daughter was a mere 2 years old and was in the ICU for an acute asthma attack, when the Doctors told me they didn't know if her heart could take it and she may not live through the night................I prayed all night that if she lived, I would make my life about making her happy. Well, I had to change that prayer and relinquish her happiness to her and remove myself from that commitment.

    Bringing these issues to the surface and recognizing the parts we play in the troubles in our adult children's lives gives us the power to change. Putting the emphasis on ourselves can change the dynamic between our kids and us, thereby offering our kids the 'opportunity' for them to change their part in the dynamic. Or not, there are no guarantees they will ever change. But we can change. At the very least, we can learn acceptance of what is and we can stop the relentless suffering that comes from attempts to control, fix, or in any way, change another person.
  3. nlj

    nlj Well-Known Member

  4. Albatross

    Albatross Well-Known Member

    Thank you so much, RE. That was extraordinarily helpful. I would like to find a course like that.
  5. Scent of Cedar *

    Scent of Cedar * Well-Known Member

    I agree. It is the dynamic between our children and ourselves that needs to change. Truly, we cannot control what anyone else is going to do. Until we learn that, we can be mercilessly manipulated. In refocusing our attention onto ourselves, we are changing the only thing we can change ~ ourselves.

    It makes sense to me that this would be so. For a child deep into an addiction, the drug may have such a stranglehold that nothing gets through. In that case, nothing will change for the child...but everything, every single thing, will look very, very different, to the parent.

  6. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Albatross, I don't know where you live, I am in Northern California and the Codependency program was through a huge HMO here in California. The program I was in was part of the Substance Abuse Program within the HMO. It was a huge, comprehensive program which covered intensive treatment for substance abuse and codependency.

    If you are in Ca. and a member of this HMO, you would be eligible to attend. If not, you might try looking at local Hospitals and treatment centers which are part of your health insurance.

    The program I was in was run by therapists who specialized in substance abuse, codependency and mental illness. We had a weekly support group, (which was invaluable to be able to hear others share their stories of devastation and recovery), as well as private therapy and mandatory classes on addiction, codependency, mental illness, alcohol and drug issues..........it was an education as well as a support.

    Having that kind of intense support at a time when I was ready to change made all the difference in being able to find a certain amount of peace of mind in the middle of the hurricane of my daughter's life. As I made those changes over time, utilizing what I had learned, she has begun to change too.

    We can change US and make a huge difference in how we not only perceive the situations with our adult kids, but how we feel and what the quality of our lives looks like. We do not have to go down with the ship, we do not have to become immobilized by the choices our kids make. We have a choice, just like they do. Just knowing that makes a difference.
  7. Childofmine

    Childofmine one day at a time

    Alb, when I think about WHY we have done what we have done for so very long...

    First, we did it because for most of us, the "issues" started way earlier, when they were children or young teens or later teens. My difficult child was ALWAYS a harder kid---from the colic to the formula intolerance to his severe shyness and "I don't want to call attention to myself" which kept his behavior in the very good category until 7th grade. He was super cute as a kid---red hair, freckles and a very winning smile and sense of humor. People would stop me on the street and say, you need to get him into modeling. He was just a cute kid.

    Then in 7th grade, with the onset of puberty, he flipped it all upside down. He liked the attention, so became the class clown which morphed into "you can't make me" to "I'm going to do the opposite of what you want me to do".

    The positive attention--he has a great sense of humor and is really funny---turned into negative attention, especially at home. I "took his side" for so long. I believed him. I really did. Now, I never let him know that I believed him 100%---I always supported the teachers about homework, studying, behavior in class, etc. But I really thought they were probably overreacting.

    He kept it somewhat between the lines in high school because he wanted to play soccer so badly and did for four years. He never went out much with girls---no proms, football games or anything. He had friends who were girls but no girlfriends. He had people he hung out with---guys, including neighbors, soccer team people, etc.

    He was very angry with us for a long time after h.s. He said we had him "scared to death to get in trouble" so he "never had any fun." A few times he actually said he was going to make up for all of the "fun" he didn't have.

    I honestly don't know what he is talking about. He had curfew---reasonable on the weekend---midnight and he worked part-time all through h.s. in several jobs to pay for his gas and spending money. We paid for his insurance. He was lazy and didn't clean his room except when I really got tough about it, but all of that was pretty much normal, in terms of what my friends were saying about their teenage boys and what I had experienced with easy child. He went to school every day---to work---to soccer practice----got by with okay grades---Bs and Cs. I just thought he was immature, a late bloomer and a lazy teenage boy.

    He graduated from h.s. in May 2008 and went straight to college that fall. He was going to major in business. Always a very smart kid---intellectually and "street smart", i.e, common sense, I told him he could do anything he decided to do.

    He flunked out the first semester. I remember being completely shocked and we marched up to the university and sat down with the Dean of Students and she gave him a lot of good advice, and we had a good talk. He went another semester there but didn't do much better. He then went to community college for another three semesters, I believe, dropping, withdrawing and passing some classes.

    It was a slow decline from my perspective. Just a slow slide. In December 2009 I remember we had a big incident at Christmas and it was then that I realized he had some serious problems and we got him counseling etc. He was still working part time, going to school, and pretty functional, although again, the slow decline, looking back.

    I just keep on doing what I thought I should do, which was push him a lot to grow up, take responsiblity, get his act together, etc. Finally, we quit paying for school and he took out a loan for one semester and moved out. Three months later he begged to come back as he was out of money.

    I started getting really frustrated, and wrote up multiple contracts that he would sign and we would agree and then he would do none of it. I'm sure he was drinking and smoking pot way more than I suspected or knew at that point.

    One day his girlfriend called me and said she wanted to come over and talk. She did and an hour and a half later my world was rocked. She talked about him drinking every day, and smoking pot and actually she just said a lot of things I can't even remember now. I just remember when she left I called my exhusband---his dad---and we had a long talk about how difficult child obviously has way more than a delayed launch.

    Of course, I sprung into action, and got him to therapists, psychiatrists, internal medicine doctor, even his former pediatrician, etc. He either went and said nothing, very stubborn, or would not even go or never followed up. We had family meetings, got him into a doctor, diagnosed with depression, on medications but he wouldn't go to therapy at all He said he wasn't sleeping and so I got him into a sleep doctor for an evaluation---both his dad and I have sleep apnea and he has the same bone structure as his dad---but he would not spend the night and would not cooperate with the doctors. He was so obstinate about so many things---could not see but would not wear glasses or contacts, no matter what i did.

    I'm sure he was doing a lot more a lot earlier than I will ever know.

    He was arrested for the first time in August 2010. Since then the slow decline turned into a fast trip over the cliff. I started going back to Al-Anon before August 2010---I knew he was in serious trouble well before his first arrest and that he had addiction issues.

    But I didn't know that much about addiction, and of course, I thought my love and will for him would prevail, and that somehow I could reason with him enough to get him the help he really needed. I spent a lot of time in that thought mode---years----even as I was going to Al-Anon faithfully and learning a different way or living and thinking, I still thought somehow something would click and he would stop. I truly thought that one day a switch would flip and everything would be okay.

    In writing all of this (I didn't mean to write all of this), I thought these things:

    1. The situation was temporary. Good sense would prevail and he would "snap out of it."
    2. He was immature and just needed to grow up. He was my youngest kid and always was a problem child so I was even kind of "used to it."
    3. I truly felt I could solve the problem. I have always been able to apply my persistence to just about any problem and solve it. Until addiction. I have met my match.
    4. It never occurred to me that he would act in the immoral ways like I have learned he has done. I never really knew anybody who did the things my son has done. I had heard stories of other people, but had no direct experience of it. Growing up, we did what we were "supposed to do." My brother drank too much and got into "teenage" trouble but nothing earth shattering like this. I thought I had taught difficult child right from wrong and I have been continually surprised and even shocked to find out the things he has done and did. I guess you could call me naive.

    Now he is almost 25---in three weeks.

    5. But as I learned better and learned about addiction, and learned that I would have to completely stop, COMPLETELY, I started stopping but I would (and do) get confused about what stopping means. I mean STOPPING COMPLETELY. How do you do that? What does that really look like? I have not known how to do that, and even though I would make decisions about what I would and wouldn't do, he would always throw me many curve balls that I was not prepared for, and I would end up doing things I never had thought about before. In other words, I was blindsided, and I would get emotional, and he would manipulate me, and I would end up doing something for him, even if it wasn't all of the things I used to do.

    Over the past four years, I have gotten stronger in my recovery and his addiction has gotten stronger. We have been moving away from each other at the same pace.

    Like him, there has been no "switch" thrown and one day I just stopped enabling him. It has been and still is a journey. It is not a black and white situation.

    I don't think it can be, Alb. I think we---all of us---have truly done the best we could do at the time. We can only do what we can live with. I don't blame myself for the things I have done for him over the years. I have done the best I could do in a nearly impossible situation.

    People talk a lot about guilt when dealing with their addicted adult children. It is a big topic in Al-Anon. I don't feel guilty about difficult child. I have said some harsh things to him since all of this horror began----and that is something I will have to make amends for. I have been very angry at his behavior, but isn't that human? I think it is.

    I'm not trying to say I have had no part in this, because I have been his biggest enabler, but as I have learned how to stop I have made tremendous progress here.

    And yes, a lot of this has been to make myself feel better. As his mother, I could not "abandon" my kid in serious trouble. If not me, then who? Who would be the last man standing for him? Well, what I have learned is this: It is going to have to be him---standing for himself. Thanks Alb, good to reflect on this.
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  8. pasajes4

    pasajes4 Well-Known Member

    I have been thinking about these very same issues. I am about to start attending a codependency support group. Albatross, Those thoughts and feelings that you spoke of have kept me stuck in an endless loop of being emotionally hostage to my youngest who does not give a rats @$$ who he hurts.
  9. Albatross

    Albatross Well-Known Member

    RE, I am going to look around and see what's available in my area. Those insights are so incredibly valuable.

    That one gave me chills. What a nightmare, and I can imagine your remembering it, and your looking back with that clarity of remembering all the times in your daughter's life that that fervent prayer colored your decisions. Reading about that moment in your life reminded me of a moment in my own. When my son was 5 and my daughter was 10, I was diagnosed with the same type of cancer that took my mother, and I remembered lying on the CAT scan table waiting to find out whether or not the cancer had spread and praying, "God, please PLEASE let me live long enough to see them both into adulthood." That was a long time ago, thank God. I don't think I'm subconsciously trying to keep him from reaching adulthood like he's my own little Dorian Gray painting LOL, but I am thinking maybe that fear of not being there for them as they grew up made me "nicer" than I should have been, made me want all their memories of me to be good ones, "just in case."

    But enough junior psychoanalysis for today. I am going to look for a codependency course or support group though.

    COM, I am glad you wrote all that and I ached with every word, feeling your hope rise and fall but knowing where he finds himself today. I think every one of us could write our stories down and just about break every other mother's heart in here. I am so sorry for your cute, red-haired boy with the infectious smile and the winning sense of humor. Those things are still in there, hidden underneath all of the other stuff, and I so pray they find their way to the surface again.

    I am hoping and praying it is more like a figure 8, and you will both meet again in the middle, with much strength and wisdom to share about how each of you made it through your own wilderness.