Note: This article is an excerpt from Claudia Black's book "Straight Talk". It was originally published in the Fall 2003 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
Straight Talk from Claudia Black: What Recovering Parents Should Tell Their Kids About Drugs and Alcohol
Whether you sobered up last year or 15 years ago, you may be wondering what to tell your kids about your past addiction. Dr. Black shows readers five very different families and how these parents have talked to their kids about recovery, relapse, and the children's own vulnerability to using drugs and alcohol in an addictive manner.
Discussion tips and easy-to-understand facts are shared in boxed sections to help parents focus on key issues. Topics include:
The basic healing messages that young children need to hear if parents who have recently become sober are raising them.
How to talk to adolescents, teens and grown children about the basic characteristics of addiction, including denial, preoccupation, loss of control, change in tolerance and withdrawal.
How to discuss genetic and environmental influences that can contribute to becoming chemically dependent, including the latest brain chemistry research.
How parents in early recovery can begin making amends and building sober relationships with their children, whether the children are young or grown.
Age-appropriate strategies to reduce a child's risks for experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
This book is aimed at parents who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction but is also relevant to non-addicted parents who grew up in addicted families.
The following is an excerpt from chapter one:
On December 31, 1986, the day after I got sober, the last thing I wanted to face was what I had done to my kids. Prior to sobriety, as a father, what I had going for me was the law, the Ten Commandments, and the tradition that adult men protect their kids. So when I became sober, the first thing I wanted to do was quickly reassert their respect for me based upon everything I had going for me. This might have worked when they were small and I had drank only a short period, but, by the time I got sober, nobody could say that I deserved all the respect that the law and the Ten Commandments provided for. I realized I was going to have to get to know the kids and vice versa. For me it meant being friends first. The kids really wanted me to be a parent, and I wanted to regain their respect. Today I have been in recovery for several years and have regained that respect, but not by asserting what I had in the first place but by "letting go" of the outcome of my relationships after I had done all I could to change, trusting that God would then do His thing.
It has always been my belief that parents truly love their children and genuinely want what is best for them, yet that message often becomes convoluted, inconsistent and sometimes nearly non-existent when addiction begins to pervade the family system. As much as parents want to correct this, the focus of early recovery is often on recovery practices, the marriage or partnership, and job or career. This is coupled with parents frequently just not knowing what to say to their children, or how best to interact with them. This confusion can be as true for the adult child as for the adolescent or younger child. In many cases it is easy to ignore the issue of what to say or how to interact with your children if someone else, such as an ex-spouse or grandparents, predominantly raises them, or they are adults living on their own. Children can also impede the process by pretending all is just fine between you and them because you are now clean and sober. And, in fact, for many it is better already. Or they distance themselves from you with aloofness or anger.
The inability to be intimate, to share yourself with your children, to be there for them, is one of the most tragic losses in life. Having worked with thousands of addicted parents, I've seen their eyes shimmer with tears and glow with love when they talk about their children. As I wrote this book, I interviewed a host of parents, and I was inspired by the depth of love and vulnerability shared as they talked about how addiction impacted children, and the hope their recovery would provide them the positive influence and connection that they would like to have with their children.
What Do You Say To Your Children?
In recovery there is a lot of wreckage of the past that needs to be addressed, and there is a lot of moving forward that will happen as well. What your children want most is to know you love them.They want you to be there for them and with them. That can be hard to recognize if your children are angry or distant. It can be hard to do, given the priority needed to learning how to live clean and sober. Creating new relationships or mending old relationships doesn't happen overnight. The most important thing you can do for your children is to stay clean and sober. Yet while you are doing that, there are so many little steps you can take with your children to begin to be the parent they need and the parent you want to be. It is my hope this book will help you in this journey. Thomas, a recovering parent, shared this story with me.
My daughter was grown by the time I got sober. More than anything I loved her and wanted her to know that. I wanted her to know that the parent she saw all of her growing up years wasn't the real me- that there was this whole other me, this place of love that I had for her that I had lost control of due to my drinking and drugging lifestyle. The hardest part was being honest. Then I had to be willing to listen and not argue with her about how she saw me. I know what she saw. She saw the addict. She couldn't see my place of love; it was too well hidden. So I listened and I didn't need to argue, I was now in my place of love. But I really wanted her to know that the things I had said or done was not the real me. Yet it could sound like a cop out. I wasn't trying to cop out. She had her experiences because of how I acted in my disease.
I talked; she listened. She talked; I listened. Together we have healed.
Addiction is a devastating disease. It ravages one's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being. The greatest pain is that it impacts those we love the most- our children. In recovery we learn that addiction is a disease, that it is not a matter of will power or self-control. We surrender to our powerlessness over alcohol and other mind-altering chemicals. We put one step in front of the other, often following the direction of other recovering alcoholics and addicts before us. We rejoice and celebrate recovery. For the first time in a long time, we begin to like ourselves. We begin to let go of our insecurities, our fears, and our angers. We begin to look beyond ourselves, and when we do, many of us are confronted with the reality that this disease is not just ours alone. Addiction belongs to the family. Confronted with that stark realization, how do we empower ourselves to make a difference in our children's lives so that they do not repeat our history?
Most children raised with addiction vow to themselves and often to others, "It will never happen to me. I will not drink like my father, or use drugs like my mother." They believe they have the will power, the self-control, to do it differently than their parents. After all, they have seen the horrors of addiction, and shouldn't that be enough to ensure that they don't become like their parents?If I were to meet with a group of children under the age of nine who were raised with addiction, and ask them if they were going to drink or use drugs when they were older, it is very likely that nearly 100 percent of them would vehemently shake their heads no. If I were to come back six years later when these children are teenagers, half of them would already be drinking, using drugs or both. The majority of others would begin to drink or use within the next few years.
These children will begin drinking or using out of peer pressure, to be a part of a social group, to have a sense of belonging. Kids often start to experiment just to see what it is like, and many simply like the feeling. Some will find that alcohol and drugs are a wonderful way to anesthetize or medicate the pain of life. Alcohol and drugs momentarily allow their fears, angers, and disappointments to disappear. For some it produces a temporary sense of courage, confidence, and maybe even power. Aside from the emotional attraction that alcohol or drugs may provide, the genetic influence may be such that these children's brain chemistry is triggered within their early drinking or using episodes, and they quickly demonstrate addictive behavior.
As a recovering parent or spouse/partner, what can you do to stop the chain of addiction? What do you say to your children about your addiction? What you say and do depends on your own story.
About the author
Claudia Black, Clinical Consultant for The Meadows, is a world-renowned lecturer, author and trainer internationally recognized for both her pioneering and contemporary work with family systems and addictive disorders. She is also past Chairperson of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics and presently serves on its Advisory Board. Dr. Black has been featured in numerous publications, appeared on many national television shows, and written several well-known books, including It Will Never Happen to Me, Depression Strategies: Practical Tools for Professionals Treating Depression and her latest book, Straight Talk.
By Thomas Best, MD, Director of The Meadows
The Meadows is offering a new program called the "Integrated Evaluation." This program combines our groundbreaking Survivors Week workshop with a state-of-the-art evaluative process.
In addition to attending the workshop, each client meets with a treatment team consisting of a psychiatrist, primary care physician, addiction medicine specialist, clinical psychologist, and nutritionist. The evaluation team works collaboratively to ensure that clients receive the most thorough, integrated, and comprehensive evaluation.
Offered at The Meadows for more than 20 years, the Survivors Week workshop examines the origins of adult dysfunctional behaviors by exploring early childhood issues; these can play important roles in various addictions, mood and anxiety disorders, painful relationships, and other emotional issues. In this revolutionary educational and experiential process, participants learn to identify and address family-of-origin issues that took place from birth to 17 years of age. The primary focus of the workshop is to learn to deal with the emotions that accompany any less-than-nurturing past event, and then to work on resolution of the consequential grief and anguish.
Each participant will meet with a member of our highly trained psychiatric staff who will provide a thorough psychiatric consultation. All of the psychiatrists at The Meadows are board-certified by The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and all have received training in The Meadows' therapeutic model. They strive to view a person's mental health issues in a holistic context and consider all therapeutic options.
The in-depth medical evaluation includes a comprehensive history, physical examination, and thorough laboratory workup. A medical evaluation is extremely important when diagnosing and treating mental health concerns. Often there is a direct correlation between medical issues and psychiatric symptoms. When the underlying medical issue is diagnosed and treated appropriately, the troublesome psychiatric symptoms may remit without medication. A medical examination is also very important in the evaluation of alcoholism and drug addiction, as these disorders frequently lead to medical problems. Our board-certified primary care physician is also certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Psychological testing is also valuable to the assessment process. The results are interpreted by The Meadows' Director of Psychology. Finally, a thorough nutritional evaluation addresses the nutritional needs of the client and any potential problems with food, such as an eating disorder.
At the conclusion of the week, the client meets with our professional staff to discuss the preliminary diagnostic findings and treatment options. A complete report is then sent to the client within two weeks.
For more information, please call 800-632-3697.
Note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2004 edition of The Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
Child Abuse in the Name of Religion
By Robert Fulton, MA, LISAC, Administrator, The Meadows
The father, like an Old Testament prophet, roars out the moral law at the child he cannot control. If the parent does not see or hear what the child's sinful deeds or thoughts are, certainly God does, and nothing gets past God. If the child does not learn to behave according to the holy law - to abide by its prohibitions against impure sexual thoughts and deeds, against drunkenness and dancing and sloth, to be neat and finish one's food - the child is damned. Obey God; obey your parents. And if punishment is not enough to change the child, God's damnation will be forthcoming as certainly as the sun rises.
The Bible-thumping parent, like the Old Testament God of wrath, lays down the law to his child.
He teaches that right and wrong are external concepts, sanctioned by a relentless God, and that disobedience is the measure of personal failure and evidence of flawed humanity. This substitution of power and control for nurture and love is the setting for traumatic abuse in the name of religion - a denial of the inherent worth of the child and the perfect imperfection of his developmental energies and appetites. Often there is a sexual element at the heart of the parent's own developmental immaturity.
Religiously abusive parents instill in their children a fear of an ogre in the sky with a great big chalkboard, writing down everything these children do - and that if these deeds are not erased, they will be damned. These parents have no idea how to maturely educate and guide their children, usually because they were never taught by their own parents. They make God into a Marine drill sergeant whose bellowed orders cover up their own feelings of parental inadequacy. Their denial of their anxiety and fear and the repression of their sexual energies infect the air like an undiagnosed epidemic, and it is the child who becomes diseased.
Let us say that a religiously abusive parent discovers his child's masturbation. He says to the child, "I know what you are doing, and although I may not see you doing it, God knows and sees what you are doing. If you continue to masturbate, you are going to be damned." The parent, because of his own psychosexual immaturity, cannot walk the child through a natural sexual evolution in a functional way, and rather projects onto the child his own primitive fear of sexuality. In angry self-righteousness, the parent invokes external authority to maintain control and to go one-up so that he can, like the Wizard of Oz, hide behind his role on the family throne. Most often, these "God-fearing" parents think they are frightening the wits out of their child for the child's own good. The child will now feel defective around a normal developmental stage, which the parents do not celebrate or honor. Instead, they demonize normal sexuality and shamelessly terrorize the child in the name of "holiness."
Parents who revert to the authoritarian threat of Biblical punishment are fear-based. They need an external control system because they don't have an internal control system. The child will carry the poisonous inheritance of his parents' shameful immaturity as he grows into adulthood, ruining his own attempts at intimacy in posttraumatic throwbacks to his original shaming.
Having been tyrannized into the same emotional and intellectual box with his parents, that child, should he ever become reflective and seek freedom from parental coercion, will rebel and develop the core issue delusion of taking his value from one being. But it is a sad truth that the budding desire to gain freedom will be shame-based and will eventually take a dark side, as the adult wounded child seeks relief from his shame. And as we see so often at The Meadows, this search for lessened shame will take on a medicative state, even if it is addiction in the name of a delusional freedom, a delusional selfdefinition and the delusional authenticity of rebellion.
Since the child's gratification will be shamed-based, resentment and remorse enter his adult relationships whenever he seeks gratification. All of his emotions are knotted up in the tentacles of carried shame, so when he steps outside the template of his parents' shamelessness, he takes their shame with him; he re-experiences the notion that he is defective, even in the midst of gratification. He feels the childhood shame of his parents' debasement of normal human developmental emotions, even in the rebellion through which he seeks his freedom from tyranny.
When he experiences the ecstacy of being outside the box, the wounded adult child has his wires crossed and must go outside the norm in order to find this ecstacy. Perhaps this adult wounded child will look to a prostitute in order to get subconsciously in touch with the shame, fear and intensity his posttraumatic stress require. The adult wounded child will demand shame, fear and intensity from the experience, because these emotions were present at the ego age of his original wounding. To be himself, he will search for the familiar, even though it is painful and degrading. He has become hardwired by posttraumatic stress.
These kinds of shame-based actings out will involve the adult wounded child in the blame game, in which he blames his partner for the remorse, guilt, inadequacy and anger he experiences when he has sex or when he seeks relational gratification. Daddy gets the blame, the partner gets the blame, and religion gets the blame. Everything but himself is at fault.
He does not have the tools to be self-empowering and accountable. Not having the power to defend himself, he will characteristically react as a victim - of everything bad that happens in his life. The adult wounded child goes into a victim stance as a way of coping with his lack of personal skills. He feels himself a victim to the spouse, to the parent... he is even a victim of God: "Dear God, how can You have abandoned me?"/p>
Some stay in the "poor-me" victim stance, while others flip into the aggressive offensiveness of "screw you." Not able to ask what their role was in all of this, or what they need to do in order take care of themselves, they attack from the victim position. These victim attacks take them from one-down to one-up. Addiction, always a one-up posture, is often concomitant with the victim stance.
Abuse and the Parish
When I was involved in parish life, a corps of volunteers kept the parish running. The pastoral team would always falsely empower these people by lavishly praising them. These volunteers needed self-esteem - people who did not have self-care, people who wanted a daddy or a mommy because they didn't have one when they were growing up to tell them how wonderful they were.
In parish life, so many people get their esteem externally. The healthy goal is to give from a place of fullness, to give of the fullness of yourself freely, without manipulation. If I give myself away so that you will tell me I am wonderful and I can feel good about myself, I have given myself away, and this is codependence. It is not self-esteem; it is other-esteem.
The good of the institutionalized church is not more important than the good of the individual. The persons who suffer in this paradigm of other-esteem are the children of parents who, while serving the church, are not at home parenting. They are at church buying their esteem. The church, by being a failed parent to its own priests and parishioners, recruits failed parents who willingly accept the church's abuse of authority and labor for the greater glory of the church, inc.
What this says to the children of these needy parents is that both parent and child have no value; they are less-than. It perpetuates a vicious shame cycle in which the parents get their esteem on the outside, and are abandoning their children in order to do it. The church requires failed parents to buy into its own failure of parental responsibility, and it applauds the failure by calling these abused parishioners "the faithful."
The spiritual demise of the church occurred because the church has opted for power, greed and secrecy over connection, empowerment and intimacy. The invitation of St. Francis of Assisi was to rebuild the church - not in terms of bricks, mortar and coffers - but in terms of being present and spiritually connected: to give a voice to the voiceless and to empower the powerless. The church needs to accept that invitation, so, like a parent to a child, it can nurture and love and be loved by God in return.
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2006 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.
History & Addiction
by Claudia Black, PhD, MSW
Like every aspect of mankind, addiction has its own history. Long before anyone understood the core problems of addiction, people became hooked on substances. The following is adapted from Claudia's videos The History of Addiction and The Legacy of Addiction.
Chemical dependency has plagued humankind since man first crushed grapes. Each millennium has treated the problems that addiction brings with a methodology unique to the times. Historically, society, as a way of treating those addicted, has imprisoned them, banished them, put them in mental institutions, religiously converted them and, in today's world, treated them.
What has not changed is the impact of chemical dependency, particularly on those addicted and their families. Herein lies the story.
The roots of addiction are deep and ancient, and the methods used to deal with addicted persons are historically bizarre. The Egyptians used to flog drunkards; the Romans created Bacchus, a God of wine and revelry; and the Turks "cured" drunkenness by pouring molten lead down the throat of the inebriate, perhaps the first example of aversion conditioning - crude, but effective. The Greeks believed that the use of amethysts, beautiful deep purple stones, would ward off drunkenness. They festooned their cups with amethysts, wore them when drinking, and even ground them up and put them in the wine they drank.
An example of an early addict we might recognize is Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia in 350 B.C. By the age of 31, he had conquered the world and, during all his mighty triumphs, had abstained from intoxicating beverages. However, after his great triumphs, in a short span of two years, Alexander became an alcoholic and ended his career in a series of insane escapades.
He burned cities at the request of a courtesan and killed his best friend, and his demise came in a contest of wine drinking. Alexander the Great was 33 years old when he drank himself to death.
Wine making and its export became the economic basis of the Roman Empire. With the collapse of the empire, religious institutions, particularly the monasteries, became the source of brewing and wine making techniques. It was not until the 19th century that the production of beer, wine and distilled beverages became efficient and cheap enough to supply inexpensive alcohol to the masses.
Throughout the 19th century and into the early 1900s, alcohol and various drugs - notably morphine, cocaine and chloral hydrate - were used in various combinations as medicines. These "patent" medicines were highly addictive; alcohol content was as high as 95 percent. By the mid-1800s, the problem of addiction was major and growing. A physician from Battle Creek, Michigan, traveled extensively and used charts to show the effects of alcohol, drugs and nicotine on the body. Today, you would most likely recognize him as the founder of Corn Flakes. His name was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.
In the 1840s, the first large temperance group, The Washingtonians, was born. The origin of this movement was a drinking club that met nightly at Chase Tavern in Baltimore, Maryland. One night, 20 chronic drinkers, in a spirit of jest, sent two of the younger members to a temperance lecture. Upon their return, the two men presented a favorable report of the lecture, and an argument concerning abstinence began. This argument would last four days and ended when six of the members announced their decision to support an abstinence society. This became a huge movement, with a membership of almost five million Americans by 1845 -notable because it probably marks the beginning of modern-day addiction recovery.
Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the Washingtonians believed in the substitution of personal experiences for lectures, and they viewed the drunk as a sick person. Perhaps most significant, they also professed a singleness of purpose: to help the drunk. But politics became an issue and would cause the movement's demise.
America's most recognizable temperance leader may be Carrie Nation. In 1888, she began a campaign wherein she and her female followers destroyed kegs of liquor and sometimes entire saloons, using stones and trusty hatchets.
In the late 1880s and early 1900s, some bizarre forms of addiction treatment were practiced. The Keeley Cure began in 1880. Using bichloride of gold, the treatment involved withdrawing the alcohol or narcotic drug and restoring the nerve cells to their original unpoisoned condition, thus removing the craving for liquor. Enemas and laxatives then stimulated the elimination of the accumulated poisonous products. (Incidentally, Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was subject to this treatment in 1934.) In 1918, it was stated that more than 400,000 people had been treated by this system at various Keeley Institutes. (NOTE: Bichloride of gold did not exist.)
While not concerned primarily with addiction, the Oxford Group, a popular religious movement in the 1930s, was to play an important role in the future treatment of the disease.
But perhaps the most successful treatment for alcoholism has been Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson founded AA in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. Wilson was a drunk who, after being called on by an old friend and member of the Oxford Group, was admitted for his alcoholism to Towns Hospital in New York City in 1934. He remained sober, and his work took him to Akron, where he felt the need to talk to another alcoholic. He was introduced to Dr. Bob Smith, a prominent and persistent drunk. From this meeting emerged the basic premise of Alcoholics Anonymous: one alcoholic helping another alcoholic. The original meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous were held as adjuncts to the Oxford Group on Wednesday nights at Dr. Bob's house.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritually based program, and its primer is The Big Book. Proposed names for the book were One Hundred Men, Moral Philosophy, The Empty Glass, The Dry Way, and Dry Frontiers. In 1939, 5000 copies were published. Today there are four editions of The Big Book - and millions and millions of copies. Alcoholics Anonymous exists in most countries, with meetings in just about every city in the world.
In 1950, Lois Wilson, wife of Bill Wilson, founded Al-Anon, the 12-Step program for families and friends of alcoholics. Alateen was started in 1957.
In 1951, the "Minnesota Model" was developed. The foundation for treatment from the 1970s to the present, this abstinence model is based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It has become the primary protocol for residential and outpatient treatment programs in the United States and in many parts of the world.
In 1952, the American Medical Association defined alcoholism, but it would not be until 1967 that it passed a resolution identifying alcoholism as a complex disease and recognizing that the diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism are medicine's responsibility.
While abstinence-based programs would become widespread throughout the United States, treatment in the late 1970s would focus on all chemicals, not just alcohol. The word "alcoholism" was gradually replaced by "chemical dependency." There would be a resurgence of interest in attending to the family, spouses, partners and children of addicted persons. There also would be heightened interest in both young and adult children of alcoholics.
The role of the private sector in treatment has lessened, with community-based programs taking on more responsibility. Today's recovery programs treat addictive disorders, recognizing cross addictions and the need to abstain from all mind-changing chemicals. In many cases, clients are treated for multiple addictive disorders, such as gambling, chemical dependency, eating and sexual disorders, and dual diagnoses, most commonly PTSD and affective disorders.
Addiction is a complex disease, a devastating disease and a terminal disease - yet today it is a treatable disease. History has left us a long and painful legacy of addiction. Today we are beginning a new legacy: that of the reality of recovery.
Victoria Munoz, M.C., LPC, Counselor at The Meadows of Wickenburg
Is pornography causing problems in your relationship? Does your partner disapprove of your pornography use? Have you found that you prefer pornography to intimacy with your partner? Pornography, specifically Internet pornography, can have detrimental effects in a person's life. Although our culture has often said, "Boys will be boys," the Internet makes pornography available 24 hours a day. It is affordable, often anonymous, and endless in its supply. As a result, many people have found themselves using pornography compulsively. You may find that you are using it more than intended, needing more to get desired effects, using it to relieve stress, and using it despite negative life consequences. In addition to the problems Internet pornography may be causing your relationship, it may be causing work and legal problems as well. You are not alone, and there is help.
The compulsive use of Internet pornography is treatable. You may find yourself unable to discontinue your use of pornography alone, and perhaps it is time to consider treatment. Maybe you are seeking treatment at the urging of someone you love, maybe you have long known that you have a problem, or maybe you are fearful of where your behavior is taking you on the Internet.
In treatment you can explore the questions: "How did this happen to me?" "What role does Internet porn play in my life?" "Why is my continued use of Internet porn no longer serving me as it once seemed to?" In addition, you can look at patterns you have developed to numb or escape from daily life. In treatment you can become free of this compulsive behavior; by exploring family-of-origin and adult patterns, you can identify how and why pornography has been so alluring to you. You do not have to continue living with feelings of shame and despair. There is a solution.