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Comfort in Chaos

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The following is a response to peppermintpatty‘s recent comment, from Allies in Recovery mom Laurie MacDougall. The podcast she co-hosts with published author and Allies in Recovery mom Annie Highwater is under the “Community” tab: Coming Up for Air.

In my experience, while going through crisis and chaos I was in a constant state of anxiety, hyper-vigilance and on alert twenty-four hours a day. I maintained this state for a lengthy period, so lengthy that it felt like it became of part of who I was. Always in turmoil, so I was always ready to respond or react. When there is change, no matter how small, it throws us off-kilter. When our loved ones go into treatment, or leave the home to live in a sober house, or find their way into an outpatient program, etc., our role in the relationship starts to change too. However, we are left in a state of hyper-anxiety with a nervous stomach and feelings like we might just explode. In a sense, we become comfortable with this state because it’s familiar and there isn’t anything or anyone to focus on. The crisis is over, the focus is gone, but the feelings are not.

Once my son went off to treatment, even though it was positive, the abrupt change left me with feelings of loneliness. I was weepy and had feelings of not being needed anymore.  What I realized was that maybe this was a “natural progression” of life, but that I didn’t have societal clues to help guide me. I know that the situation I am in is not “normal” but I always try and compare it to things that are normal. So, I started to think about my son going into treatment as similar to my daughters going off to college. I started to see that the feelings I was experiencing were the same feelings I had with “empty nest” —on steroids mind you— but the same. When my daughters (and son) went off to college, I had to redefine who I was, my role as a mom was changing even though I did not want it to. The feelings were similar with my son going off to treatment and I started to see I had to adjust to the situation.

I realized that my feelings of ultra-anxiety and loneliness were my problem and not my sons.  Just like when my daughters went off to college, I wouldn’t make it my children’s responsibility to “fix” my feelings, I couldn’t expect my son to either. His sole responsibility, for a very long time, was to work on his recovery, not mine. My emotions and feelings are my responsibility. I had to start taking care of myself and create a new social life. I started going out with friends and made it a point to do things in life that make me happy. I reached out for professional help with the emotions I was experiencing. I attended support groups, created a community of people in the same situation as myself, and got educated about SU. I was lucky in that I did have guidance from my son’s treatment staff and they suggested I keep communications infrequent and keep conversations very light. We could talk about the weather but it was suggested that if he try and pull me back into the chaos that I make it short and hang up.

Honestly, this was the beginning of the shifting of my role as his mom. It became a long, involved process of letting go.  Not letting go of my son but letting him take the reins of his recovery. My role was changing so my feelings were changing and I needed to learn (just like my son) to deal with them. I had to adjust to less of him in my life and less of me in his life. It was important for me to determine what my son is responsible for: his recovery and that’s it for a long time, and what I’m responsible for: me.

I hope this helps and remember you are not alone in these struggles and emotions. It is not easy or quick and not something that is chosen, but in the end it can change us for the better.

Laurie is a former math teacher, residing​ in Dartmouth, MA, and extremely active in the recovery community. She currently devotes most of her energy to REST, a non-traditional support group that offers land and online video meetings, access to training in the CRAFT method, and a crisis toolkit helping families create their own individualized crisis plan. ​Her work is guided by a desire to improve the community’s response and end the​ stigma associated with Substance Use Disorder. Laurie loves skiing and ice hockey, and is at her happiest when spending time with her husband and three children. Read her articles on our blog or tune in to the podcast she co-hosts for Allies in Recovery: Coming Up for Air.


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In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Hello and thank you for reaching out, I know how much courage that takes.
    I have experienced similar moments with my son. Aching for a call, some time spent together, etc. Depending upon how old yours is? We probably have a lot in common on that issue. I found that sometimes I just had to state how I felt and was seeing things, along with what I hoped for and then leave it there for a while. Hopefully with the ebb and flow of time, he will realize and come around. It’s a lot of mental work to get and remain sober, sometimes they are careless quite accidentally.

    When I tell myself that people do the best they can with the tools they have in the moment (and sometimes their tools of memory or courtesy are a little rusty), it takes the sting out of it. Other than that, I pray over it and then fill my time with positive and productive things that will benefit me and give me joy. I go for a long walk, hike or run…maybe start a new project, call a friend I’ve lost touch with and catch up etc. I like to believe my prayers and faith are at work on it while I am busying myself on things I enjoy.

    We touch on this subject in a Podcast referring to the dynamics of Empty Nest and SUD…hope you will tune in and find some comfort.

    Much hope sent your way as you adjust to many new things and find your new normal. Keep exploring the alliesinrecovery site, there are valuables there! And remember – you don’t have to go through it alone, we’re all in this together.