May 24, 2017

What I learned the day all hell broke loose

On a recent bike ride, I found myself reflecting on the only true physical alteration I had with my son on this addiction journey. It happened at least six years ago. In my thoughts, I noted how I viewed the incident at the time and how I internalize it now. This transformed view provides a critical lesson on perspective so critical for parents, especially those with addicted children.

My son had his best friend visiting from out of town. They have been very tight over the years, to the point they ended up on their heroin journeys together. It had been several years since they had seen each other. Though I was repeatedly assured, they both were clean and sober, I was extremely tense about this reunion.

Despite my hopes and their assurances, this happy, little reunion turned into a chaotic, drunken mess. Well past the agreed curfew, the two buddies staggered home, openly waving around a fifth of vodka. As they prepared to enter the house, I informed them they couldn’t stay here under these circumstances. All hell broke loose and my son went into a maniacal rage attacking me verbally at the top of his lungs, running around in front of the house.

Things escalated and we ended eventually tangled to the point where my physical size and strength overpowered him. Fists weren’t thrown, but it was the closest thing to a fight we ever had.

I reflect back on this fight with many regrets. My biggest regret is how it turned into a fight. Yes, my son had flown out of control, but somewhere I allowed myself to lose control, as well. Fighting takes two people to lose control. If one person maintains order in chaos, there is no fight. I was disappointed I allowed myself to lose control.

The most piece in this story was what my son was saying in his anger. When I sent him away, it triggered a hurt that had been festering for years. He was mad, spewing harsh words. At the time, the things he said hurt me because he directed his attacks at how I raised him and the father I was to him. These words hurt me because I loved my son more than anything and know my commitment to him. To have him attack that body of work was hurtful and disappointing. After all, I was a good dad!

Reflecting on those words in that event today, I realize this was his moment to share some of his childhood pain with me. He didn’t say anything that wasn’t true from his perspective, he was finally sharing stuff with me he had never been able to share before.

Today, I hear something different than a criticism of my parenting. I hear a young man sharing his hurt, opening up about what he didn’t get from his dad, and what he wanted and needed most from me. This wasn’t about my perspective on the Dad I want to believe I was, but it was about his experiences relating to how I raised him.

This is not about me, it is about him!

We do and did the best we can with what we have in raising our children. We make choices and decisions based on what we believe we need to do for our children. We hope and pray those actions does not hurt or adversely impact our kids. When they do well, we are relieved and celebrate success with their every accomplishment.

When they struggle with something like an addiction, we start to examine our parenting model. The question is almost automatically, “what did I do wrong or, what could I have done better or different?” Even in their addiction, we make choices and decisions defined by what we believe we need to do from our perspective.

While we are not responsible for how they filter their experiences or the choices we make in their lives, their addiction is not about us, it is about them. Instead of worrying about our past, present or future behaviors, the greatest gift we can give is hearing them share their story and discover ways to find healing in this learning process.

What is the pent up, hidden, underlying pain that has not been shared or heard or understood about their world, past or present? What do we need to know and understand that has not yet been shared or explored? What have we previously dismissed or defended because of our hurt as they shared their truths?

My mom is the master of defending how she raised me whenever I talk about my painful childhood experiences. She has this need to defend her choices rather than listen to and understand my pain. Her behavior inhibits the healing process between us. Without any healing interaction nothing between us will change. That is unfortunate. My relationship with my son is the same. He has something he needs to share with me and his acting out was the first time he attempted to share it.

The same is true with our addicted children. We are determined we did nothing wrong. It is likely we didn’t. But, that is not the issue here. There is the possibility something in our actions or their experiences that was misunderstood by the young child and it needs to be released.

Next time your child wants to share experiences in their past, take time to be very, very quiet. Listen very carefully. Ask great learning questions. Please avoid defending or correcting their perceptions of truth.

The healing process requires we listen and learn to understand what hurts and pains your child may be carrying forward. Even if they are raging at us for being awful parents, let them get it all out of their system. You can always dissect it later in a quiet, reflective, healing moment. It is most important we need to give our children a place where they can trust us with their pain and know we are hearing them.

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I would love to hear from you. What issues are confronting you today? Where are you currently experiencing fear and shame relating to the struggles in your life? I have some pretty cool tools to guide you and would love to help.  Please let me know: dave@100Pedals.com.

Please take a moment to go to the Cycling for Recovery 2017 page and learn more about ways you can participate in this year’s cross-country cycling addiction awareness campaign.

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About Dave Cooke

Dave Cooke is a dad on a mission. His mission is to help parents get control of their lives over the powerful, destructive influences of a child's addiction. As the father of a son in a ten year heroin battle, Dave knows all to well the challenges parents and families face. He also knows there is a way to find peace in the chaos. It is his mission to help parents discover their path to a healthier, balanced life even if a child's active addiction is still part of their daily journey.