In February some girlfriends and I took a weekend trip to Dallas. We stayed at a fun hotel in an area where we could walk to nearby restaurants.
Our first night there we were excited that a drive only 3 hours south made such a difference in the temperature. As we walked into the courtyard, we were impressed by how nice the weather was, there was the calming sound of a fountain in the middle of the courtyard, all the trees had strings of lights in them that were twinkling, we were taking it all in.
Maybe we were over excited because it was warm out and we were outside. Whatever it was, we were impressed and enjoying the atmosphere.
Eventually we picked a restaurant and ordered our food. As we sat there waiting, I was looking out the window at the courtyard we were marveling at just moments ago. Something was different. It didn’t look the same and I didn’t feel the same about it. The magic was gone. At first, I was confused, then I realized the window was dirty and it totally changed the view and how I felt about it.
I thought this is what life is like when your child is using substances. You’re looking at life through a dirty window. The magic is gone, the lights don’t twinkle, nothing looks marvelous, and nothing feels the same.
We get focused on what’s different and how it’s not like it used to be. Then we fixate on those differences.
Personality and behavior changes are a part of addiction.
Our kids might start lying, stealing, become verbally or physically abusive, or disrespectful. Those differences are hard to watch and stir a lot of negative feelings inside of us because we think we raised our kids better than that. It’s tormenting to see, and we start to judge and criticize them, maybe even call them names.
Which character trait brought out by your son or daughter’s substance use makes you the most upset or angry?
Let’s use lying as an example.
When you know your child is lying to you it makes you almost lose your mind. You know how you clean that dirty window?
Look at all the ways you lie. Find that trait in yourself.
- Have you ever lied on your tax return?
- Ever said “I’m almost there”, but you haven’t even left the house yet?
- How about “I got stuck in traffic” but the truth is you left late?
- Have you ever lied about how much you paid for something or hidden purchases from a spouse?
- Someone asks you how you are, and you say “fine” but clearly you aren’t fine?
- Have you ever made up a lie to get out of something you didn’t want to do rather than just saying no?
- Have you ever called in sick at work when you were just tired or didn’t feel like working?
- Do you tell your friends you like their clothes when you don’t?
- Have you stretched the truth to manipulate your child into sobriety with guilt?
- Do you tell your friend that her ugly baby is cute?
I bet you are mentally ranking the lies I mentioned against the ones your kids tell. You’re probably thinking theirs are worse. Their lies happen more often. They hurt you and make you feel disrespected.
What’s the purpose of most of the lies I used as examples?
We don’t want to admit something or deal with the consequences.
Guess why our kids lie when they are using substances?
They don’t want to admit something or deal with the consequences.
It’s the same motivation!
Here are 3 more questions to ask yourself:
- Have I ever (lied)demonstrated that behavior in the past?
- Am I (lying) demonstrating that behavior now?
- Can you imagine a circumstance where you would be capable of (lying) demonstrating that behavior?
When you see yourself in someone else, it opens the door for curiosity, love, compassion, and acceptance. It quiets that inner critic who’s always judging and offended by that behavior.
Have you ever noticed the more you dislike a behavior the more you see it in others?
Thinking of our kids as liars vs someone who’s lying creates more distance, especially when you call them a liar because you are overwhelmed. When we know our child is using substances and lying, stealing, being abusive, or disrespectful, it’s up to us to expect that behavior instead of being shocked by it because they should know better.
I am in no way saying lying or any of the other behaviors I mentioned are acceptable.
This practice isn’t about making the unacceptable acceptable.
It’s about neutralizing your emotional response to your child’s actions that you can’t control.
It’s exhausting to have a huge emotional response every time your child displays undesirable behaviors brought out by substance use. Your body fills with chemicals, your heart races, and when it’s over you are left with an emotional hangover and feel like crap.
Using this practice takes the sting out of their actions and puts you in control of your actions and reactions so you don’t have to ride the emotional roller coaster with your son or daughter. You can be the thermostat and set the temperature, you don’t have to be the thermometer.
Boundaries are the next step to sanity in this situation, not expecting someone to change just because they should. Boundaries put you in control of your environment even though you can’t control others. Read more about setting proper boundaries here – Boundaries Blog Post