Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
Self-regulation for anxiety
Anxiety is at the roots of meth and stimulant use; anxiety that we may not even notice. I never dreamed my sons had so much anxiety. They were athletic, smart, musical, and confident. They were happy…or so I thought. They didn’t talk about it, and I didn’t probe. But inside, they were insecure and longed to be cool, to be included, to feel special. They had unexpressed pain. Their grief over my husband’s and my divorce, my subsequent remarriage, then the death of their beloved stepfather 6 years later from brain cancer pushed them over the edge. With untreated anxiety, they didn’t have the skills to acknowledge or manage their sadness.
On top of it all, I carried my own huge weight of anxiety! Unaware of it, I got caught in the dust storms created by their use of meth. I’d get mad, lecture them, or give unwanted advice. I could have asked more questions, opened my heart to their sadness, allowed more of their experience to be valid, to have conscious conversations, and I regret that I didn’t.
Turning regret into motivation to change, I’ve since focused on self-regulation: noticing my thoughts and emotional states, aware of what’s happening in my body when I’m on alert. Committed to being more conscious, I try to notice when I’m dysregulated and reset my own nervous system. Doing this through daily breathwork, vagal toning, and deliberate cold water immersion, I rewire my entire system, and I am better able to handle stress. I also receive coaching through an integrative psychotherapist and a support group so I can practice responding, not reacting, differently.
Learn from my mistakes and help your loved ones by having discussions, asking open-ended questions, providing a safe place for them to share feelings and fears. Listen even if you don’t agree. Model how to embrace your panic or fears and manage them. Facing and embracing the normalcy of worry then resetting our own nervous systems is part of combatting drug use.
Open your home instead of closing the doors
Help your drug-using loved ones feel at home in your home. A sense of safety is essential in healing. Rather than sending them away, which sets your beloved up for sneaking or dangerously disregarding you by couch-surfing elsewhere, consider inviting them and their friends over to play a game, ping pong, pool, basketball, guitar, watch movies. Offer a safe and drug-free place to land. Make a fun breakfast together with them then go out and play minigolf or go to an event. Do whatever you enjoy and have available. Don’t judge. Quietly observe while participating, getting to know them in context. Be curious and see what happens. Listen. Give them some space yet be a part of it too. Set your boundaries with them one-on-one, and explore what they feel and say after a couple of these evenings or mornings at your home.
Be around to get to know them. I became close to my son’s high school and college friends, a familiar mom-friend who would engage with and listen to them. I was available and present. I was around and observing what was going on. I noticed, and I offered a listening ear and loving eyes. I did what I could. We had pizza and movie nights every Friday evening. Hosted a small ping pong competition. Invited our son’s guitar teachers and band members over for jamming sessions and rehearsals. Invited their friends to come over and paint furniture a couple of times. Clearly, it wasn’t enough, but my sons might not be doing as well as they are if my husband and I had not offered what we did, as imperfectly as we did it all. My sons could always find us.
Let’s be the easier relationship for them to find, more accessible than their substance-using friends. We can be readily available, quicker to respond, and more reliable than finding drugs. Because for meth users, the drug and their drug-using faux-friends are often closer-by from their point of view, and they hate asking for help. So, let’s be grounded and near, seeing them as they are.
We cannot force them to change. Yet we can and must set clear boundaries about what we will and won’t do while being the honey they’re really seeking.
Our friendship and love are the elixirs they really want, much of the time, along with a safe haven.
Let’s help our friends and family get help. If they’ve already begun using, they’ll need a supportive detox to get off of it then a good rehab. Don’t wait too long to make it clear you’re able to help them with this, or that it’s part of what you need in order to give them assistance. Also, they’ll need a supportive, understanding, loving circle of people with compassionate boundaries to go back to, a mentor or sponsor, meetings they choose and enjoy, and engaging activities they like.
Everyone wants to be in love with life and have hope. Our meth-using loved ones want freedom from anxiety, love, laughs, and ways out of their pain and struggles.
We can’t do it for them but we can be one oasis they seek: we can love them, laugh together with them, and offer structure.
Shine your light and don’t give up
We may lose what we hoped for, but we never lost hope.
We can do tough stuff and be brave. Our family members and friends using meth need light posts in their darkness, and we can be those stationary, dependable markers, for whenever they are ready. That’s the key. We stay and wait. We silently keep our headlamps on from a distance, walking alongside them through the wilderness even if they say they’d rather brave it alone.
I believe that even when at their worst, they’re doing the best they can. When we see this, it’s easier to not give up. How do we remember? Consciously practicing empathy for ourselves and them, through self-compassion, then extending it to them with unconditional understanding.
Our conscious awareness about methamphetamines and its effects on people we care about must continue as we persevere together with those we care about. Let’s open our eyes, our hearts, and put our utmost love and bravery into action, even when they can’t.
What if they don’t change?
Whether or not the people we care about stop using meth, or continue, we stay present. Our level of support may alter, we might pull back a bit, but we continue to live in the murky middle, in the grey area between the black of disconnect and the white of full involvement. It’s more colorful in the murky middle. Once committed to this place on the continuum where it’s manageable to handle pain with less fear, we discover we can love them, even if it means our broken hearts also get bent and twisted into knots. Resilient, they mend and we discover we are healable.
Honor their unique, winding paths
By not being attached to a certain outcome for our loved ones, we convey respect of who they are and their own timing. Pressure is often a disincentive. Each person who has entered a place of abstinence from methamphetamines, who has learned to turn to other healthy things for satisfaction, knows that they had to discover grace when they were ready. We who care about them find power in assertive surrender because this process is theirs and not ours. There’s some ease and greater freedom in conveying our faith in them, our respect of them no matter what they’re doing, even if they go back to using.
We’re in a synergistic relationship, yet they are separate from us, and we are helpless to change them and powerless to protect them. Awareness of this in action looks like us doing our own personal work, helping us to have faith in the bigger process and stretching into growth.
The non-dualistic practice of letting go while staying has many names and forms: presence with distance. I like to call it: patience as a not-doing that does. Detached connection. Two seemingly opposing things that are true at the same time. Surrender is the flip side of assertive action on the restorative coin of recovery. It’s the yin and yang, and the practice requires commitment and skill in activating all the compassionate tenacity you’ve got.
Motivation to truly help your beloved is what enables you to both release them and stay linked. You know on a deep level that the choice to be clean or not is theirs, not yours. They have control. You can only control yourself by self-regulating, and doing your radical self-care. They may get worse before they get better, then cycle again into sobriety only to fall unexpectedly another time. Addiction is a condition causing multiple re-sets, but these times of returning to use offer unseen clarity learned through mistakes.
There is always goodness at work in this mysterious universe beyond our sight.