The Every Brain Matters community understands how difficult and painful it is when you have a child or loved one with destructive behaviors such as using marijuana or any drug. We also know that each family navigates recovery and healing in different ways, applying valuable tools from many types of effective support systems. The information given here is taken from one of these reliable systems.
We are grateful that the Cornerstone Team Counseling community addresses these tough recovery questions and is allowing us to share their insight with you. Since it is beneficial to hear different perspectives, the following answers are from clinical staff, teens in recovery, and parents.
To learn more, please visit The Every Brain Matters Support Section or click under the meeting tab to find more information on our support meetings for parents and families.
What is the balance of good parenting and “letting them go?
Perspective from Clinical Staff: This is like a trick question because sometimes good parenting IS letting them go!!!
First off almost ALL parents that end up in Cornerstone are “Good” parents!! Almost all parents I see when they arrive in the program are desperately trying to save their child and their families. The parents usually emotionally beat up by the addiction process, skeptical of trusting outsiders and programs, and running on very little hope.
These parents ARE good parents, they just don’t have the “tools” yet to combat addiction. Parenting an addict or abuser is actually very, very simple and at the same time tremendously difficult.
Here’s the simple answer for the parenting part – Do EXACTLY what you say you are going to do and follow the SHOTS to the letter.
This will allow the parents & the child the process of regaining their self-esteem.
Perspective from a Teen: I think being a good parent sometimes involves letting them go. I think if parents trust that God will take care of their kids in the way He sees best, the balance won’t be so hard to find and things would go much smoother.
What I learned through working the steps is that we will be able to handle situations that used to baffle us, just like it talks about in the Big Book. I don’t think it’s about balance.
I think it’s as simple as doing the next right thing with love in our hearts, which is obviously easier said than done, but who says we have to be perfect with it?
The problem is we live in fear, especially parents with their kids, and we act out in that fear by being too controlling or pushing them away or not being very loving and speaking out of anger, etc. When we live in fear there’s no love, there’s no God, therefore not very “good” parenting. God’s will for my life is not to be happy, His will for my life is to do the next right thing and true happiness is a by-product of that.
Perspective from a Parent: To me, letting your child go means their actions are their choice, as well as their consequence, good or bad. Trusting they are ready to deal with the consequences is part of good parenting, as well as holding them accountable.
Also, I think that communicating to your child that you love them and will support their healthy choices, always, is good parenting, as well as letting them know you are there for them if they need help navigating any unchartered territory.
If children are in the program, I think reminding them that they have all the tools they need 24/7, and that you as their parent have faith and hope they will use those tools every day, is also good parenting.
Recovery at a Snail’s Pace
Hi, I am a 57-year-old Father who is codependent, an enabler, and no telling what else. I am a native of Houston and am the youngest of four. I was raised in a traditional, Leave it to Beaver, middle class loving family. My father was probably a workaholic but with an 11th-grade education he always figured he had to out work the other guy to get ahead. My mother was an unselfish, nurturing lady who should be nominated for sainthood, and her only flaw was being too nice. That is all you get on background, as the rest of this is my story of recovery.
Recovering Our Children points out that recovery is forever, but participation in an early recovery program has a beginning, middle and end. Moving on is necessary for a healthy life. I am at the end of my active parental participation in Cornerstone, and I want to share my story with you. It is not a unique story, but like any sharing that is done in this group, perhaps you will take something from it that might help you.
In preparation for this exercise, I re-read Recovering Our Children and Beyond The Yellow Brick Road. What struck me was what great guides these are for anyone entering the program. Even though I read them early on, they did not fully penetrate my thick skull. As I progress through this story I will refer to and use some key phrases that hit me as particularly relevant.
I came to Cornerstone in January of 2003, five days before an intervention with my daughter, which led to a rushed trip to an outpatient treatment facility in Arizona. Like many of you, Cornerstone was not my first choice for a leisurely Saturday morning, however I had said I would do anything to fix my daughter so I aggressively sought a seat on the back row.
I cannot remember much about the meeting except a bunch of ladies fighting for position on the couch, having to raise my hand and acknowledge to the people I was hiding from that this was my first time, people talking about pink clouds, and leaving the meeting halfway through with a distraught woman who had a 31-year son at home who was a manic depressive and was using. After sorting out her situation for 29 of the 30 minutes we were told that we needed to see someone named Kirk in the driveway after the meeting, and we were in the right place!
Were we sold? Not really, or at least not me. We met Kirk, who I initially mistook for one of the kids, and he was surrounded by a bunch of tattooed and pierced punks who looked just like what my daughter had become over the past 12 months. After a brief exchange, he smiled and told us to call on Monday and set up an appointment. We peeled off and began looking for my daughter. My wife was talking to someone who clearly was enthusiastic and had plenty of ideas and suggestions. I smiled, nodded, and gave my wife a “let’s get the hell out of here” look.
We did meet with the counselor on the following Tuesday and, after a few minutes with our daughter, she took us aside and told us she was fairly sure she was an addict. I immediately explained that she had psychological problems and depression and the drugs were secondary. She explained that drugs often were behind such problems, and Cornerstone would be a good program now or after her outpatient. She and some others had suggested some outpatient facilities, but I was confused enough and didn’t want to reopen that discussion. Right, wrong, or indifferent we already had made that selection and I, for one, didn’t want to keep shopping. Like others of my gender, I make quick selections while my wife will shop for days. Men are from Mars…. you get the picture. Let us fix this kid and not waste time making rational decisions. We left and said we would get back to her. I thought Cornerstone was in my rearview mirror forever.
Two days later we had the intervention for my daughter about 4:00 pm, and she and I were on a plane to Arizona by 8:00 pm. We got there about midnight, and I hugged her and watched as the attendant took her to a secure holding room to spend the night. I think I can say that I have never felt more of a failure and lost as I watched my firstborn being led away behind that locked door. I had turned my beautiful daughter over to a night clerk and would not see her again for 60 days. The long, flat, dark drive across the desert from Tucson to Phoenix at 2:00 am was filled with guilt, self-blame, and hopelessness. I cried the whole way and nearly turned around two or three times. As the book points out, no parent dreams that she or he will have to deal with a child contracting a catastrophic disease. This is especially true of an embarrassing catastrophic disease such as chemical addiction.
I learned very quickly, even though not consciously, that chemical addiction is a family disease, and everyone is impacted; even me. The next Saturday morning I was sleeping soundly when my wife shook me and said it was time to get up and go to the meeting. “What meeting?” I asked. Cornerstone, I was informed. Look, I had made a tough drive and deserved some rest, I pleaded. Our daughter would not be back for 2 or 3 months and we could return then. She informed me that she wanted to learn everything she could and was going with or without me. The old guilt grenade was tossed into the bed. “Okay, okay I ‘m coming,” I smiled as I held back some darker comments. As I mentioned earlier, this a family disease and spousal stress is one of the unpleasant side effects throughout the process. Not only is being on the same page important, but reading the same book really helps!
As evidenced by this incident, it is clear that I was not a “walking point,” or taking the lead, in the recovery process. It is no accident that I ended my Cornerstone experience one year after my wife completed it. I was baggage on her journey, and she hauled me around from meeting to meeting. Whereas I had not read the books I was practicing fake it until you make it! My early meeting experience was to plant myself on the back row and curiously watch people spilling their guts, ranting, crying, and using a vocabulary that was foreign to me.
I recently read Steven King’s book, On Writing, which is an autobiographical guide to writing and has an amazing recovery chapter. But the real point that hit me was how he described how he receives ideas for stories. They just come to him randomly at all hours of the day, and he had to train himself to recognize them and run with them or lose them. My recovery has been similar. In the early meetings, I was an observer and not a true participant. A couple of times I would say something that I thought would make me look smart and caring, but it was not sharing. However, it seemed something would touch me at each meeting or later in the day a random point from the meeting would pop into my consciousness. Slowly the “don’t get too close or you will see the real me” veneer was cracking. Slowly I was identifying with this weird collection of people who crowded in this little room every Saturday morning. I didn’t understand everything going on, but I began to feel their pain and joy and kept coming back for more. The unlocking of this feeling of empathy for my fellow parents was the beginning of my spiritual awakening. For the first month, we regularly attended the Saturday meetings. After a month we found out about the Tuesday night meetings and Climbers on Mondays. Again, my wife soared ahead as she got a sponsor and started working the steps immediately. I procrastinated but got some incredible knowledge listening to parents struggle with how to relearn parenting from Kirk.
Some of the exchanges were memorable as he went mano a mano with some of the most die-hard codependents in North America. I can remember taking him aside after a Climbers meeting where we discussed riding the city bus and explaining that my daughter was only 17 and if she was harmed or got in trouble while riding a metro bus I might be deemed as being negligent. He laughed and said, “Dude, the cops treat all 17-year-olds as adults and it’s ok to ride the bus”.
This was my first showing of my lack of knowledge in front of Kirk, which was evident to everyone but me! The book says that if you want to learn as quickly as possible, in the beginning, you attend at least two meetings a week. Think of the meetings as parenting classes. Much of what we learn in Cornerstone is counterintuitive. We have been programmed to give our kids everything, do everything for them, and expect them to excel in everything. It is hard to learn new tough love parenting skills with shots and boundaries, but Climbers is a safe place where you can show your ass and get help from people who are in the same place.
I also started creating stronger bonds with group members, and even though I didn’t know it, I was experiencing my higher power as expressed through the group. Total strangers were helping me deal with these embarrassing matters and they didn’t judge me or condemn me. They were there to help.
Our daughter was weeks away from coming home, and we had decided that we needed some personal counseling, so we met with Kirk and devised a plan to get her into Cornerstone. It had been my observation that there was a key critical time in every family’s early recovery when they had to roll out the ultimatum: you are going to Cornerstone or you have to move in with another Cornerstone family.
I call this the “tough reentry”. This is an incredibly tough call for parents especially when you are new to the program, are not entirely sold on it, and have doubts. There is a leap of faith, and I found it easier when I talked to other parents who had been there. We had our face off, held firm, and after a stormy weekend we were a family in recovery in Cornerstone. We had a united front, but the strength was in the female species who led me through the valley of darkness.
I learned a most important tool at Climbers, and that was to keep your mouth shut, don’t enter into debates, and use the phrase “If you need an answer now it is no. I need more time.” Wow, that is pure genius, especially when you put in the hands of a parent who was distant and not fully engaged in the recovery process. I had an excuse for not facing the music!
Thus ended the beginning stage of my recovery. My kid was home and pissed off at the “cult” we had put her in, my wife was into her sixth step and streaking ahead of me, and I had just selected a sponsor. The little epiphanies were becoming more frequent, and the bonds were building. Slowly I was buying in at a snail’s pace. Progress not perfection!
With my wife’s participation in the kids group, we soon became more involved with parents and other kids as we attended functions and hosted many Cornerstone functions at our house. Kids soon came to live with us as their Cornerstone host family, and we had to consult others in the group to learn our roles and what was expected. I can say that I have never regretted having any of the Cornerstone kids in my house as a guest or resident. It was incredible to see them hold themselves accountable and work through so many problems.
My daughter was not fully buying in and had told us she was splitting as soon as she was 18, which was in two months. Life was rocky, and I felt totally powerless. What deception to think I had power to do anything. It took me a while to learn that. It was during that time that I saw the higher power at work through the group.
One Saturday night after a function our daughter called and was at Ben Taub with a Cornerstone kid who had OD’ed. She said she would be late as she wanted to be there to offer her prayers and support. This tragic event basically bonded her with the group, and I began to see the love and caring that was at work in the group. This tragedy had helped turn my daughter to recovery, and I recognized something larger than me was at work.
My own recovery remained slow as I attended all meetings, functions and started my first of four step studies. I told you I was slow! Sharing in this format was great, and it led to stronger bonds with the men. I met adult winners who have become great poker and golfing buddies, as well as fellow travelers in recovery who will offer ideas and help at any time. I also learned what enthusiastic recovery was about in watching the kids have fun as well as the parents. The Christmas party that year was great, and I received my most treasured medallion at that party, my bling!
February brought one of the best bonding and growing experiences yet in the Men’s Retreat that year. I was skeptical about going but had made some good friends in the step study class and ventured out. This was two days of sharing and fun and an opportunity to share as I had not experienced.
The recovery books I read says many fathers entering the program are almost paralyzed with what they identify or perceive as anger. Some fathers are so angry that they cannot make friends with possible allies who can help them fight the disease. What these fathers are really feeling is usually fear, sometimes guilt, or shame. When they can identify these feelings, admit, and accept them, it takes the power out of them. Then they can take part in the procedures that will help to save their children. We worked on fear and resentments at this retreat, and I learned the phrase resentments are like drinking poison and waiting for the other fellow to die!
I think this retreat truly began my personal recovery. It seemed as if all fears and trepidations were lifted. I wanted to talk and share and genuinely wanted to hear from everyone. I was learning that my higher power did indeed reside in the group. The spring brought the parent retreat, and it was a repeat of the great sharing but with more emphasis on the kinder and gentler side of recovery. Again, I felt the love and warmth of the group and it provided me another opportunity to enjoy enthusiastic recovery with winners.
The spring brought another step-study class and also brought my daughter’s SO (see glossary of terms at the of this story). It was a moving and proud moment for our family and me. The progress that had occurred over the past year was miraculous. Her recovery also led to her greater independence and her plans for the future. I struggled with my disappointment over her decision to pursue a career in hair styling. She was thinking Barber College while I was immersed in my own dreams of a real college. Luckily, the support of the group brought me to my senses. While I was wallowing in pity and complaining in a meeting about my “struggle”, another father reminded me that he would not trade all the colleges in the world for the lessons his daughter had learned about life while in Cornerstone and the strength and self-esteem she had gained. It hit me like a ton of bricks that my woes were my codependent tendencies, and I needed to let go and let live. As the book says in recovery, users and their family members need to learn a number of new behaviors. The other group members help by providing the invaluable service of giving constant feedback to earth other. I needed a large does of that and fortunately got it. As soon as I saw it was all about my shit, the problems I had self-inflicted had gone away. Another lesson learned the hard way.
The Fall brought two joyous occasions: the golf tournament and the awakening. The awakening was doubly important as my wife and daughter were both participating. I can tell you I have never been prouder than that night and the joy of that event has stayed with me. The 18 months at Cornerstone had strengthened us and healed our family. My daughter had become an active member of AA, was knocking them dead in cosmetology school, had an apartment and job and my wife had joined an Al-Anon group.Both had obtained the tools and skills to take care of themselves. We had been blessed.
My daughter and wife graduated the program in the Fall, but I was not ready to move forward on several fronts and asked if I could hang around a little longer. I was just getting it and wanted more. The epiphanies were coming more frequently, and I spent the fall running a mini-step study so that we could join the ladies in January. The parent retreat was great in the Hill country. In late December I joined the committee and learned how this recovery model is really run. Sausagemaking at its finest! I pioneered such Cornerstone innovations as the five-minute claw that I wielded with great pleasure. We started the Men’s Step study and I think the sharing and participation was the best I have experienced in Cornerstone. The group really trusted each other, and we all learned and grew. The Men’s Retreat was an extension of that step study and solidified the growing bonds.
Glossary of terms:
Addict: A term used to describe a person with an addiction or a substance use disorder that some people view this term now as socially unacceptable.
Al-Anon: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.
Awakening: A term used after Completion of the 12 steps and the requirements of the Cornerstone community. Like a graduation but it’s viewed as a “spiritual awakening”
Climbers: an interactive educational group for family members to bring issues, questions or concerns, and receive direct feedback from a counselor and other family members. As well as learn tools of recovery to help you and your family. The Every Brain Matters community offers a Climbers meeting every Wednesday.
Destructive Behaviors: Self-destructive behavior is when you do something that’s sure to cause self-harm, whether it’s emotional or physical. Some self-destructive behavior is more obvious, such as: attempting suicide. binge eating. compulsive activities like gambling, using harmful drugs, gaming, or shopping.
IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy): treatment programs used to address addictions, depression, eating disorders, or other dependencies that do not require detoxification or round-the-clock supervision.
Mar-Anon Family Groups: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.
Parent-Driven Recovery: Tools that Work is a must-read for parents of substance-abusing teens. You’ll learn how to maneuver through the chaos to create a harmonious family life. Even if your teen is not ready or willing to change, there is help and hope.
Recovery: A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. A healing process.
Shots: A term used in the recovery community is called Couerstone Team Counseling. It’s a customized list of rules and consequences each family makes for their homes. To learn more, attend the Every Brain Matters Climbers meeting on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm Central time. A list of our meetings is at this link.
SO: Stands for Significant Others, a term sometimes used when graduating from an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) after making amends to our “significant others”, or people we have harmed.
Winners: members of the Cornerstone recovery community who are working a strong honest program.