If you care about someone with addiction and/or mental health challenges, you have felt overwhelmed and even traumatized by their altered states, shocking or impulsive choices, dangerous behavior, trouble with the law, imprisonment, homelessness, lack of insight, and apathy about their self-care, health, food, sleep, relationships, or future. They are facing things they didn’t initially choose — no one asks for this! Difficulties and crises simply go part and parcel with unaddressed trauma and irregular mental health.
I’m here with you! You’re not alone. The reason for my Medium blog is because I’ve decided to cultivate conscious and daily bravery to manage excruciating situations, to renew, and find contentment no matter how harrowing the circumstances. I still need bravery constantly for relief, to reset, return to happiness, and find answers when I’m lost, and my sons are in turmoil. I’m here to share concepts, techniques, and practices that work so you can build your resilience, become adaptable, and develop conscious courage.
Twelve years ago, my husband died from brain cancer. He was the beloved stepdad of my two sons, who were teenagers then. Adversity and grief rocketed their ADD and ADHD. Even though we were close, comforting each other, and I was as present and compassionate as I could be, it launched them into substance use as the answer to their pain. They never wanted to become addicted, but, eventually, their polysubstance dependencies led to stimulant and meth addiction. They needed treatment for co-occurring issues all along the way, and our whole family asked for every kind of expert help. Even with the skills I had as a psychotherapist, I couldn’t help them. They’ve been in detoxes, wilderness therapy, residential treatment, and our whole family have sought out good therapists, support groups, and legal help. The disease of addiction and severe mental health challenges sometimes lead them to jail and chosen homelessness.
Why do Parents and Loved Ones Need Conscious Bravery?
We parents, loved ones, and people who care about those with substance use issues and mental health challenges need to build ships of unsinkable bravery, because we encounter the most horrendous and unpredictable calamities. For those we care about, things can seem brighter and then suddenly turn for the worse. Our loved ones fall, seeming to be beyond hope, then grace helps them find their way again. They have their own unique and wandering paths. Other people may have wrongly cut them off, or distanced from them with unhelpful “tough love,” when what they need most are dependable connections, loving understanding, safety, and healing from adverse experiences and/or trauma.
You may feel you’re on an unchosen roller coaster next to them, helpless, grieving, traumatized by what they go through and their choices, with no ability to control how they feel or what they do.
We who care must find control in ourselves, ready for absolutely anything, not clinging to the desire for their stability since it’s elusive. At the same time, we build our own steady endurance, staying present in their worlds with conscious caring and perseverance. When we work on ourselves with diligent compassion, we who love them can be the oasis they seek when they’re ready.
My young adults have struggled greatly since the onset of their substance and alcohol use, alongside undiagnosed mental health issues. Adopting tools and practices I had taught my clients for years, I gradually made strides forward as I modified them for myself. Twelve years ago, there wasn’t a book on bravery for devastated parents who wanted healthy ways to cope. There was not one body of research to teach me how to reset under fire and be consciously awake, or a guide on how to avoid fighting or fleeing from what I couldn’t control. It was a bumpy path through the wilderness, and our whole family had to change, developing awareness and new skills.
A few years ago, I decided to begin compiling some of what I’d learned into a book, Conscious Bravery, which was released in 2022, along with a few of my stories of mistakes and successes. My passion and mission have always been to help others, and now it’s to offer guidance for those like me who struggle on this wayward path in the wilderness.
What is Conscious Bravery?
Conscious bravery is multifaceted; it’s being able to see whatever is needed in a given moment and take action toward what seems most right. It is the trained skill to reset our nervous systems from a tendency to fight, freeze in fear, flee in overwhelm, or fawn to please others or avoid conflict. The “conscious” part is the non-dual awareness for both daring and tenderness, encompassing seeming opposites. The “bravery” piece is the unbreakable lifeline so desperately needed for any parent or loved one who walks alongside their beloved who struggles. It is multifaceted courage, deep enough to face any situation — the moxie to overcome fear and regret, to face shocking crises and harrowing devastations while being present.
Conscious bravery is your trained capacity to reset into a new moment and find hope. It is tenacious love, resilience, and strength you build together into the boat that saves you during tsunamis, and upon which you float during calm waters. In the Broadway musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda sings, “In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet.” This is exactly what happens as you develop conscious bravery — in the middle of the whirlwind, you discover a way out. Leaning into discomfort, you can find the eye to see.
If you’re on this journey in the wilderness with someone you care about, please ask yourself: “How can I help my person when I’m clouded by gripping fear or panic?” I still ask myself this often to remember my commitment to be authentically me, aware of my pain and then work through it. To stand tall and return to a foundation of happiness. It’s essential that we face our own disappointments and sometimes torturous struggles with deep compassion, so we can bring that same depth of understanding, tenderness, and strength to our loved one in their situations. These are the tools we need to help ourselves and those we care about.
We who want to offer conscious caring — a phrase I use for moving healthily beyond “codependency” — must diligently learn and practice the foundations of conscious bravery and continue to use them as we grow and change alongside our beloveds. It is not us vs. them; we are all in this together. They have their journey, we have ours, and we are on the same path in the same wilderness. Current research shows that trauma healing and a family systems approach are crucial in supporting our loved ones and ourselves into greater stability. We must allow stages of growth and healing in ourselves whether or not those we care about can achieve any of this. Their struggles may be longer and more arduous than we expect, and we need to be prepared for calamity, for their sakes and that of our own health and well-being.
There’s not a lot written about a specific protocol for bravery for parents, relatives, and loved ones of those with addictions or behavioral and mental health diagnoses. But bravery is what we all wish we had after we needed it, so I became a “braveologist,” studying and practicing conscious bravery and partnering with others who want to do the same. This type of courage requires intention, commitment, and acting.
Becoming a Braveologist
To become a braveologist, we learn and use the pillars of conscious bravery: conscious breathing, befriending all our feelings (even those like shame and pain), becoming more comfortable with discomfort and overwhelm, knowing who we truly are — our essence — apart from our circumstances, tapping into our whole-being awareness, returning to presence under stress, asking for help and giving it in sacred exchange, transforming fear into an advisor, preventing suffering and protecting our happiness, taking part in radical self-care, and living awake from dawn till dark.
I’ll be writing about all of these and more here on Medium in my upcoming blogs.
How do we know and remember to use these pillars? We commit, practice when things are calm, prepare in advance for the grueling distresses that will come, and hone skills in altering perspective. Just like getting ready for a race, a speech, a big exam, a first day of work, or taking your loved one to treatment. You ready yourself, adding varied skills to your repertoire and practicing with discernment for the unexpected occurrences along the way. Bravery can look 100 different ways on 100 different days. It can be the leap-in and save-the-day type. Or, as I say in my book, Conscious Bravery: Caring for Someone with Addiction, “Bravery isn’t always tough as nails. Bravery can look like softness and sound like stillness … Sometimes the bravest thing to do is to do nothing and hold faith.”
So, you build your bravery muscles, strengthening the fibers of your resilience and adaptability, so that you can face assorted changes, the unknown and a variety of harrowing circumstances when they arrive. As you go, you grow your inner wisdom, while also finding something greater to partner with — the universe, nature, Source, God, the Tao, call it whatever you like. There’s a triad of connection to anchor and refill you with hope when we rely on not just yourself or others, but a resource from what’s beyond you. You develop confidence and become acquainted with grace and gratitude for what is. You’re alive! The person you care about is still breathing too, and every day brings opportunity. Perspective is an essential part of conscious bravery.
Just begin today, simply taking a few small steps into bravery. This may look like: reflecting upon these concepts, journaling about your own emotions or story, or talking with a friend or therapist about what you’re ready to start doing today.
If you want to practice one foundational aspect of bravery, breathe consciously into your whole-being as often as you can today, without judging your situation or experience. Breathe into your heart, mind, body, intuition, deepest self, and the energy space around you with conscious awareness. Then breathe out distractions. Inhale presence, exhale the past and the unknown future; breathe in bravery, release suffering; inhale commitment, exhale old patterns that no longer serve you; breathe in partnership with the person you care about, breathe out obsessing about them; inhale self-care, exhale postponing it; breathe in conscious bravery, then exhale and surround yourself with compassion and strength.
See you again soon, as we link arms. We may be on a rollercoaster together, but we choose to ride it. We have each other and the community here and elsewhere. You can find some of the control you long for by developing conscious bravery. You have it inside of you and are surrounded by a universe of infinite growth and unseen goodness. We’ll figure this out together.