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Change: It Can Happen if You're Willing to Let It

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As my readers and friends have no doubt heard me say before, I look back not to see how bad things were, but to see how far we've come.

This morning I took a peek at the voluminous journal that predated my blogging debut and saw the entry from eight years ago today. I thought I'd share a few "highlights" from that entry dated March 6, 2007:

My kid is pissing his life away and I have no control over it. It hurts me so much inside. It's like someone is ripping a part of my life out of my heart. Why is he like this? Why can't we figure out how to fix him? Why, why, why?

I'm taking a sick day today, and that seems appropriate. Because I'm sick of life. Sick of every little aspect of it. I don't even know if I'll be able to go to work tomorrow. I think I'm emotionally fucked up. Probably for life, too.

This is bringing me waaaaay down. I still need that magic wand to fix [my son] and get this family back together. I want us to be a "normal" family again. Not this dysfunctional "phony" family. We project love and normalcy to friends and family. But that's just an act. In reality, we're just a dysfunctional mess of a family.

When I read old, toxic thoughts like those, I don't dwell on the negativity contained in the stuff I wrote. Instead, I rejoice in the fact that I somehow found the tools I needed to turn my life around. As I eventually learned -- no doubt after March 6, 2007 -- I could not fix my son, no matter how much I wanted to. And there was no magic wand. He had to take care of himself. I, on the other hand, had to concentrate on fixing me, because I was as sick as he was.

As the parent of a child going through addiction, figuring out that your life is the most important one in the equation is probably the most difficult thing you'll ever have to do. Like finding-a-needle-in-20-haystacks difficult. Some parents never learn or accept that self-care should be the number one thing on their "Things to Do" list when their child is struggling. Even though it took me several years, I'm glad I finally bought into the idea. Because I probably wouldn't be sitting in this chair typing this blog post today if I hadn't.

When I talk to parents who are new to their child's substance use disorder, I'm frequently reminded of a passage from a Thomas Lynch essay called "The Way We Are," which appears in his book Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality. It reads:

It hurts so bad that I cannot save him, protect him, keep him out of harm's way, shield him from pain. What good are fathers if not for these things? Why can't he be a boy again, safe from these perils and disasters?

Those are the kinds of thoughts that filled my head back in 2007. And 2008, 2009, 2010, etc. As parents, we get so used to being in control of our children's lives. From the moment they are born, we are in charge of their lives. We are their their parent and guardian from day one, their defender, protector, and keeper. Until one day... we're not anymore.

Pardon my French, but letting go is so fucking hard.

Sure, my wife and I never gave up on our son. And we tried to point him in the right direction on more than one occasion. But the decision to get clean and sober was ultimately his, not ours. (I sometimes imagine my addicted son as a player in one of those old electric football games that were popular when I was a kid. You'd have the little figure lined up perfectly, turn on the power, and, despite your best intentions, the player would go off in some crazy direction you never intended. So on the next play, you'd have to line him up all over again, and hope he went where you wanted him to this time.)

And the decision to change my life was no one's but my own.

I'm living proof that that a person can be lower than low emotionally, but still make a comeback and change their life. If you're willing to change, you can. But you have to be open to things like getting professional help (therapy does not make you a freak) and educating yourself about your issues (self-education beats self-medication, any day of the week).

I used to be the epitome of a pessimist. I didn't look at the glass as being half empty; I looked at it as being almost empty. Hell, my therapist labeled me as a catastrophizer in our first session! But eight years later, I'm a different person, living in the moment and appreciating every little thing in my life.

If I can do it, anyone can.


Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.